The Interrogative Mood

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Overview

Are you happy? Do we need galoshes? Are bluebirds perfect? Do you know the distinctions, empirical or theoretical, between moss and lichen? Is it clear to you why I am asking you all these questions? Should I go away? Leave you alone? Should I bother but myself with the interrogative mood?

The acclaimed writer Padgett Powell is fascinated by what it feels like to walk through everyday life, to hear the swing and snap of American talk, to be both electrified and overwhelmed by ...

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The Interrogative Mood

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Overview

Are you happy? Do we need galoshes? Are bluebirds perfect? Do you know the distinctions, empirical or theoretical, between moss and lichen? Is it clear to you why I am asking you all these questions? Should I go away? Leave you alone? Should I bother but myself with the interrogative mood?

The acclaimed writer Padgett Powell is fascinated by what it feels like to walk through everyday life, to hear the swing and snap of American talk, to be both electrified and overwhelmed by the mad cacophony—the "muchness"—of America. The Interrogative Mood is Powell's playful and profound response, a bebop solo of a book in which every sentence is a question.

Perhaps only Powell—a writer who was once touted as the best of his generation by Saul Bellow and "among the top five writers of fiction in the country" by Barry Hannah—could pull off such a remarkable stylistic feat. Is it a novel? Whatever it is, The Interrogative Mood is one of the most audacious literary high-wire acts since Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine. Powell's unnamed narrator forces us to consider our core beliefs, our most cherished memories, our views on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In fiction as in life, there may be no easy answers—but The Interrogative Mood is an exuberant book that leaves the reader feeling a little more alive.

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Editorial Reviews

Josh Emmons
Powell's new book is a remarkable collection of philosophical inquiries, stimulating either/ors and good-faith attempts to measure the gap between where we are as a species and where we belong…a fearless meditation on the sublime and the trivial, a hydra-headed reflection of life as it is experienced and of thought as it is felt. With echoes of the Tao Te Ching, "My Funny Valentine," Pascal's Pensees, Green Eggs and Ham, Annie Dillard's This Is the Life and countless other quests for conviction that secretly understand and depend on the futility of such quests, it is wondrous strange…The Interrogative Mood demands to be read deliberately, for it is courageous and entertaining and interested in the essential mysteries of self and society. 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 New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Powell (Mrs. Hollinsworth's Men) is in playfully provocative, top form in this slender book fashioned solely as a series of questions beginning with his limpid first: “Are your emotions pure?” and ending with his prickly last: “Are you leaving now? Would you? Would you mind?” Thoughtful, cajoling and absurdist, Powell's random non sequiturs are not without their method, sounding some tenderly recurring themes, such as a middle-aged ruefulness for simpler times, a longing for more elegant forms in clothes, tools, cars and looks and a tenderness for elephants, dogs and children. At moments the questions become self-revelatory, as if the narrator is interviewing for a partner or friend (“Would you believe me if I tell you that I am a little fragile, psychologically speaking...?”), while also challenging the reader with pointed questions regarding ethical gravitas: “Are you bothered by your cowardice?” Hilarity, irony, and sheer perverseness vie to question essentially what we know and how what we know makes us what we are. (Oct.)
Library Journal
WTF? Can you write a thoroughly engaging book consisting of nothing but questions? If you can't, can Powell? Can you call a book with no dialog or characters fiction, or if you respond to the questions in your mind, isn't that characters and dialog? Will you? Why or why not? How many slices of life make a whole life? Is this the most original work this side of Ben Marcus's Age of Wire and Strings way back in 1995? Why will people of a philosophical bent enjoy this book? How bent do they have to be? Does it help to have the twisted sense of humor of a Monty Python fan? Will "people of a certain" age particularly respond to this book? How old is "a certain age" anyway? Are you uncertain? Could The Interrogative Mood become a cult classic? Why "mood" instead of "mode"? Why would this book not work for discussion groups? Why is the VERDICT for this weird little book so utterly positive?—Jim Dwyer, California State Univ. Lib., Chico
Kirkus Reviews
This novel is a one-trick pony, and that trick is a question mark. Though Powell (Edisto, 1984, etc.) received considerable acclaim for his early work, his latest literary stunt would be wearying in a short story and seems interminable in even a short novel. As the title hints, every sentence is a question (and is certain to inspire some reviews that respond in kind). Some of these questions seem like the sort of personality interview form an applicant might see at a job interview. Some seem more like therapy, or interrogation. Most of them seem random, arbitrary, non sequiturs: "What is the loudest noise you have ever heard? Have you done any mountain climbing? Would you eat a monkey? What broke your heart?" Though the questioner at one point addresses the silent respondee as "dear," the relationship otherwise seems unspecified. The questioner, however, keeps returning to certain obsessions: bodily functions (particularly excretory), philosophy, pedophilia, coffee, chocolate, clowns, animals, popular music (including a long riff on Jimi Hendrix), word usage, suicide. A few of the questions are almost as long as this review. Is there a thematic pattern to the questions? Or does the lack of a pattern indicate a theme? Does a novel consisting only of questions suggest that there is nothing we can know with sufficient certainty to justify a declarative sentence? Is a novel without plot, dialogue, setting, narrative momentum and characters (except for the person asking the questions and the person/reader to whom they are asked) a novel at all? Less than a third of the way through, the questioner asks, "Have we gone on like this long enough?" Yes! Later, "Does it change things a bit for you toperceive that these questions want you bad? And that they are perhaps independent of me, to some degree? That they are somewhat akin to, say, zombies of the interrogative mood?"Whatever.
Rick Moody
"Offhanded, witty, original, and [an] altogether unique book. . . . Here, he’s less a writer in the school of John Casey or Peter Taylor than he is a member of the badass gang of Barry Hannah. The Interrogative Mood, serious and laughable, extends this legacy."
Jonathan Lethem
"A supreme literary stunt."
Amy Hempel
"Intimate and hilarious—the yearning is as powerful as all that is evoked and revealed in this precise and beautiful novel."
Ian Frazier
"A delightful stylistic flight, and as engrossing as staying up late at summer camp considering every goofy or brilliant question that comes into your head. Padgett Powell is one of the best writers in America, and one of the funniest, too."
Jonathan Safran Foer
"This book will sear the unlucky volumes shelved on either side of it. How it doesn’t, itself, combust in flames is a mystery to me. Padgett Powell has given us a wake-up call."
Richard Ford
"If Duchamp or maybe Magritte wrote a novel (and maybe they did. Did they?) it might look something like this remarkable little book of Padgett Powell’s: immensely readable, ingenious, witty, and ultimately important-feeling in a way you can’t quite describe but don’t need to."
Luc Sante
"[This novel] represents superior value in a crumbling economy. Its pages do not tell a story—they tell thousands of stories, all of them starring you. Powell pokes and prods, soothes and slaps you. By the end you will feel as rich as Haroun al-Rashid on the thousandth night."
Sam Lipsyte
"[An] ingenious provocation, devious and deeply hilarious riff, perfect party game, not to mention the most entertaining personality test ever devised. But above all it is another brilliant work of fiction, in some ways Powell’s best, by one of the few truly important American writers of our time."
New York Times Magazine
"[Powell] has a rare ear for dialect and dialogue, a dedication to new ways of making words jump and dance and catch fire."
Time Out New York
"The book intrigues as it entertains… [Powell’s] questions and nonsequiturs will have you looking at your own life with a renewed sense of observation—and a healthy appetite for the absurd." (5 stars)
St. Petersburg Times
"[A] peculiar and mind-popping experience. . . . Most novels take us away from ourselves, into the lives and minds of other people. The Interrogative Mood goes boldly in the other direction — and really, wouldn’t you like to talk about yourself?"
New York Times Book Review
"A remarkable collection of philosophical inquiries, stimulating either/ors and good-faith measures the gap between where we are as a species and where we belong. The Interrogative Mood demands to be read deliberately, for it is courageous and entertaining and interested in the essential mysteries of self and society."
Village Voice
"You don’t so much read [The Interrogative Mood] as let it shove and jangle you into unexpected and highly pleasurable states of mind. Powell is a master of nouveau Southern lyricism....How this book works is beyond me, but, miraculously, it does."
The New Yorker
"Hypnotic...Jazzy meditations that wrestle with life’s important questions."
Vanity Fair
"Can you picture the rabble-rousing literary offspring of Flannery O’Connor and Donald Barthelme? Does the prospect of reading a lawlessly lyrical, comic novel composed entirely in The Interrogative Mood pique your curiosity?"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061859410
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/29/2009
  • Pages: 164
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.25 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Padgett Powell is the author of five novels, including The Interrogative Mood and Edisto, which was nominated for the National Book Award. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Little Star, and The Paris Review, and he has received a Whiting Writers’ Award and the Rome Fellowship in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in Gainesville, Florida, where he teaches writing at MFA@FLA, the writing program of the University of Florida.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 6 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This is an odd yet fascinating book as there are no declarative sentences

    This is an odd yet fascinating book as there are no declarative sentences. Instead every line is a question that goes deeper and deeper in profundity and acerbity. Starting with a childlike innocence re "Are your emotions pure?" and asking seemingly silly questions like "Would you eat a monkey? and ending with the seemingly finish to a relationship between the interrogator and a silent responder (can that be readers?) whose lack of resonances implies much with "Are you leaving now? Intriguing with a weird psychological spin, recommend those who appreciate a deep internal look at one's self, answer the questions; just do it over a few weeks or your loved ones will ask are you crazy especially at $21.99? Hopefully yours do not answer that.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2010

    Thought Provoking

    This is the 'grown-up' version of the 'would you rather' books that are popular right now. I bought this book for my husband after hearing a review on NPR. It is simply pages of thought provoking questions. He took it on a recent vacation and would read a page or two and pose a question to me. The questions are as mild as 'Do you have an friends?' to as complicated as last meals prior to execution - need to read the framework for this question yourself. If you really want to get to know someone, this is a conversation starter and potentially relationship ender.

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  • Posted February 22, 2010

    Questions, Questions

    I am currently reading the book. It is interesting, but I find I can only handle a few questions at a time. I will finish it, but it is not the quick read that I expected.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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