THE INTERROGATIVE MOOD: A NOVEL? – Book Review by Sara S.

What if you had to write a book in questions? Do you think you’d be able to do it? Would it be entertaining? Or would it be thought-provoking? Would you believe me if I told you Padgett Powell did all of the above with his book, “The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?” Would you think I was joking if I told you that Josh Emmons of The New York Times said, “Powell, with his outsize romanticism and urge only to connect, shows that it is through questions rather than answers that truth can, however fleetingly, be glimpsed.”

“The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?” is an ambitious project. Powell took on the challenge of writing a 164-page novel entirely in questions. While this could end up being a cutesy gimmick, Powell transcends the territory of cliché by injecting this idea with a tone of wistfulness, romanticism, and thoughtfulness. This is obviously not a book that Powell just sat down in a Starbucks and decided to write one day. Every question evokes an answer of meaning that reflects and reveals who the reader is.

When reading “The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?” it is astonishing when you hear the answers you come up with. Powell’s book has the uncanny ability to directly involve the reader. While what he’s asking you may seem nostalgic or arbitrary, there is always a deeper meaning. For example, Powell writes, “If you are walking along and see a really good stick, can you pass it up?” or “If you could assign a color to every day of the week, which color would you assign to Tuesday?” When you really think about it, there are millions of questions to ask yourself in order to respond: What color would I pick? Why that color? What is the significance of Tuesday in relation to that particular color? What does that say about me? Powell’s question will completely captivate you and cause you to actually put your book down and think about your answer.

Another marvelous thing about Powell’s novel (?) is that his questions often reflect his own views and who he is. Powell asks many descriptive questions that are too lengthy and meticulous to not have a connection to him. He evokes moments from his past and his own personal views on the world. While you’re learning plenty about yourself, Powell has also given you a window into his life. Powell is essentially trying to connect and share these secrets and stories that remain buried in his mind. Powell asks, “Did you ever try to raise two flying squirrels by getting up every three hours and feeding them cow’s milk and stimulating their genitals with a tissue to get them to pee as your mother instructed you and seeing them die three weeks later of a fever and bloat and fecal poisoning because cow’s milk had so constipated them that they had not, in all that peeing, ever pooped?” Powell brings up this situation later in the book, almost as if he’s still haunted by the mistakes he made with the squirrels. Powell isn’t directly telling you who he is, but through his questions he is able to evoke a sense of familiarity in the reading. It is this connection that Powell is able to develop with the reader that leads the reader to sincerely take time to answer all of his questions. Almost as if you think he is listening intently to what you have to say.

Powell’s questions can be incredibly thoughtful and revealing. At one point in the book, Powell asks “If you were in a streaming crowd being pushed into what appears to be a bifurcated tunnel ahead, and over one entrance was the word HOPE and over the other NO HOPE, and you could just barely manage to maneuver yourself within the crush of the crowd into either entrance, which entrance would you take?” Questions like these really get you thinking, ‘What tunnel would I pick? What does that say about me?’ He puts you in these hypothetical situations that you have to think your way out of. You can’t take anything Powell asks for face value. You have to search for the hidden meaning behind the question.

However, as often as Powell’s questions are serious, they are relentlessly silly. At one point Powell asks, “Can you imagine the fortune to be made were someone to genetically engineer a perpetual kitten?” Some of his questions will catch you completely off guard. You’ll find yourself laughing to yourself (something I almost never do when reading a book) when you read some of these questions. The humorous questions will catch you off guard and bring a much-needed light-heartedness to the book.

I think the most successful aspect of “The Interrogative Mood” is the way the book is arranged. Powell makes sure not to overload you with too many thought-provoking or frilly questions. He mixes the questions amongst each other. While one minute you may be laughing, you’ll find yourself thinking the next minute. This makes the book pleasant to get through. It doesn’t feel like a bunch of questions smashed together for no reason. Powell gives the impression with his questions that everything is deliberately organized and has an intentional arrangement.

I recommend “The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?” to everyone. I feel that the topics and questions Powell asks are so broad in range that anyone can relate to the book in some way. This is probably the least polarizing book I’ve ever read. When you think about reading a 164-page-long book comprised entirely of questions, it seems like a boring task. I mean, how many questions can one person ask? Yet Powell’s perpetual curiosity and extreme wit make this one of the most entertaining and involving books I’ve ever read.

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