Vol. XXX, #1 Writing From Postcommunist Romania
Volume editor Ehren Schimmel
Review of Contemporary Fiction
Padgett Powell. The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? Ecco, 2009. 176 pp. Cloth: $21.99.
Although it is hardly the first prose fiction to be constructed solely of questions, The Interrogative Mood may be the only such book to entirely forego plot (and, perhaps, even structure). The book is simply a very long, breathlessly relentless series of questions directed at "you." It is no more and no less than the titular sensation distilled and spread over the page, and thus it is foremost a reading experience, a purely aesthetic entertainment. Powell shows himself to be a master of the sentence—his questions range from laugh-out-loud funny to frank, poignant, bawdy, occasionally gruesome, and surprisingly philosophical—and throughout he effortlessly limns the cadences of speech without falling into monotony. Often Powell will surprise the reader by calmly leading her up to a key last word: “If you had the chance, and there weren't the certain prospect of time in court or jail in these our litigious times, wouldn’t you like to participate in a rumble?” Other times Powell freshens his prose by finding ways to defamiliarize common words: “Did you have a grandmother who called the culmination of nausea 'upchucking’?” He wrings an admirable amount of philosophical depth from the venerable “Would you rather . . .”–style question (which he employs often and with brio), and he is especially good at following up a hypothetical with a group of sharp interrogatives that drift ever so casually toward the bizarre. With The Interrogative Mood Powell has discovered an airtight alibi for luxuriating in the creation of elegant and surprising sentences. This is surely an indulgence, yet it is one that Powell gets away with: the proof is found on every page of this addictive, compelling experience.