Who is Padgett Powell? He’s written four novels, and been published in Esquire, Harper’s, and the New Yorker. Portions of The Interrogative Mood first appeared in the Paris Review. Have you heard of this book, full of questions?
Some years ago, Saul Bellow commented: “When asked for a list of the best American writers of the younger generation, I invariably put Padgett Powell at the top.” Bellow is gone now, and what would he think of a book composed entirely of questions?
Much of Powell’s ruminations in The Interrogative Mood resonate with those of us in mid-ife, and are highly entertaining. Remember collecting pop bottles for a few cents? Remember the “rag man’s” place in society?
It’s the random nature of this book full of questions that is astonishing.
“Were you a thumb sucker? Would you rather agree with people or not? Can you think of a musical instrument useful in murder other than piano wire? If you came upon a party celebrating something or someone with a yellow sheet cake and white icing, would you partake happily?”
Other questions are more thought-provoking. “If something could happen right now that is not likely to or impossible but that would really cheer you up if it did, just light you up like a child again, what would it be?”
Can you call this a novel? A book of questions hardly seems to have a plot. Yet, it is compelling and if it does tell a story, it is the story of America, with all the random thoughts we hold in our head. Take Jujubes: “Do you have any idea how the name Jujube came about or what it might mean, if anything, apart from the eponymous candy?
The Interrogative Mood might send you off to research all the mundane facts Powell stirs up. I’m more intrigued by his ability to write 165 pages of continuous questions in a highly readable and entertaining format.