Can you guess what I’ve just finished reading? Have you heard of the novel The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell? If not, can you conceive of a novel composed entirely of questions? Have you already formed your own question, along the lines of: is it really a novel? Who is the interrogator, posing these surprising, often absurd, sometimes profound brain-ticklers? Would you find the frequent occurrence of North American phrases and references, if you did not recognise or understand them, an impediment to your reading experience, or would you perhaps relax and allow yourself to relish new colloquialisms and what you might think of as a glimpse into the richly varied, weirdly wonderful texture of American daily life? If I tell you that some of the themes or motifs that recur in the text include guns, specific and strange forms of violence, unusual pets or animals in unusual situations, household tools, oil, mortality, nostalgia for soda fountains and other bygone pleasures, various states of undress, global environmental damage – would you be intrigued or indifferent?
If I explain that I was drawn to the book by its jacket, with the striking image of a dapper young man wrestling a large bright red question mark, would you think me superficial? If I further admit that I was also taken by the author’s name, Padgett Powell, finding it sounded just ever so slightly contrived (who are you to talk?, you may be tempted to ask), yet quintessentially American in its punchy, androgynous effect, would you despair at the new layers of shallowness revealed by my admission? Or, if the author’s name was new to you too, did you have a similar reaction to it? Are you bothered now, though, by the idea I’ve just introduced of ‘layers of shallowness’? Going back to our esteemed author, Padgett Powell, would you be surprised to learn, as I was, that he has written six other books? Are you tempted to investigate further?
Can you appreciate how reading The Interrogative Mood could lead you to frame every verbal interaction with your patient, long-suffering beloved as a question? Do you anticipate that my patient, long-suffering beloved might take this new approach to conversation in good spirit, even, perchance, be more than a little amused by it? Is that a loaded question? Are all Americans crazy? Am I allowed to ask a question like that?
Do you see how such a book might put me in mind of Nicholson Baker, or even Lydia Davis, just a tad? Or do you think that might simply be because they are two of the very few contemporary American authors I have read? Have I used the word ‘might’ correctly in the preceding two questions? Are you able to judge, from what you have read so far, whether, in your opinion, I have understood the hidden meaning of this book? Answer honestly – yes, no, or what kind of goddamn pretentious nutcase would read a book like this, let alone write such a book? Would you advise me to stop now, before I go bananas? Speaking of bananas, do you prefer yours firm, or soft and squidgy? If you laughed at that question, would I be right to assume that you have an immature sense of humour? Is that any of my business? What’s this got to do with Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood, other than the infectious, question-forming impact it has had on my brain? Do you regard this as a cry for help? Returning to my earlier question, would you advise me to stop? Would you like me to stop? Would you? Shall I?