The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? – Padget Powell (2009)

This was one of those weird art-y novels that occasionally pop up from graduates or participants in an MFA program across the States. (Not sure why so many experimental books grow out of the US programs – surely other nations with Creative Writing programs do similar projects? Perhaps it’s the difficulty of getting it published..? Hmm…)

The twist to this particular book is that it’s actually made completely of questions – there is no other sentence construction other than questions. And the questions run rampant across topics and issues, ranging from asking the reader whether they wear galoshes to the differences between moss and lichen… In the wrong hands, this obviously structured format could come crashing down on to the ground, but, for some reason or another, this actually works (or at least it did for me).

Despite being initially skeptic about the project, I found that the questions posed by Padgett, one after the other in a relentless stream, is rather like having a conversation with a very curious robot that leaps from topic to topic. Sometimes the questions may lead logically from one to the other, and sometimes there is no connection between them, but it was a bit like taking a self-test in psychology or somewhere. I really was intrigued enough to actually think about how I would answer some of the more unusual questions the author poses in between the more run-of-the-mill ones.

Padgett is an established creative writing professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and although, as mentioned above, this whole stylistic endeavor smells of checking off the list for tenure for academic faculty, this experiment actually worked. I don’t really understand just how it worked for him – but it was engrossing enough for me to finish the book (thin though it was).

This was both a provocative and enjoyable read if you are open to stylistic experimentation. If you’re looking for a traditional plot, you won’t find it here, but what you will find is an interesting list of wide-ranging questions that will make you think. And isn’t any book that can make you think a good one? (Discuss.)


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