Padgett Powell - The Interrogative Mood (3 stars)

Padgett Powell - The Interrogative Mood

Hypnotic text blazes a trail for innovation. But can you truly love it?


This book’s subtitle pretty much says it all: ‘A Novel?’ As the blurb of Padgett Powell’s new effort suggests, this is the kind of thing Marcel Duchamp or Rene Magritte might have come up with had they dabbled in the written form. Over the course of 164 pages, The Interrogative Mood quite simply asks question after question after question. With each sentence, a new query is put which, in the main, has little relation to the poser placed immediately before it. Here’s an example, plucked utterly at random from page 56: ‘Do you enjoy taking cabs? Do you employ a maid, and, if you do not, would you like to? Would you name a child Jason? Do you know that the action of thirst or hunger is called “the mechanism” and that the mechanism of a pistol is called “the action?”’ This sequence reflects the banal, philosophical, surreal and totally pointless that is everywhere in the book.

And OK, it may sound awful, but the simple task of submitting to page after page of this novelistic ticker-tape yields a grip so hypnotic that you can’t fail to continue. There’s barely a subject Powell doesn’t touch on, from babysitters to bombmakers, clowns to coins, sandboxes to slide rules, and he saves the day by being extremely witty. It’s no one’s fault that very little modern fiction can be described as especially original, so it’s difficult not to be fascinated when a book comes along that blazes a trail for innovation and patents a form that cannot be copied. But can you truly love it?