Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? (Padgett Powell)

The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?, Padgett Powell
Read: 14 June 2013
3.5 of 5 stars

Would you concede that the failure is on the reader's rather than the writer's part if the reader began a novel with an inward groan regarding the page count? Does the reader deserve whatever lukewarm karmic smackdown comes with approaching a novel with stubborn trepidation? Doesn't subtitling a book with "A Novel?" successfully present what the reader should reasonably expect?

Does a barrage of questioning betray more about the questioner or the questionee? Are you, as the one being interrogated, inclined to stop after each inquiry to mull over each one and arrive at an honest yet satisfying answer, or does your mind wander until one of the queries lobbed at you catches your attention? Do you feel that there's an inherent selfishness in either approach? Does this concern you?

Are you comfortable with the notion that questions are not the same as accusations, that queries can suggest social concerns that one feels are imperative to address but may sound presumptuously off-putting as statements, or that the interrogator is simply looking for reassurance that he is not as alone in his idiosyncratic actions and beliefs as he both fears and hopes?

What would coerce you into reading a book of nothing but questions? Is such an exercise, perhaps, proof that sometimes good writing can be enjoyed for good writing's sake, serving as a showcase of sorts for what can happen when a knack for piecing together well-crafted sentences is allowed to run free from the technical restraints of both fiction, such as plot, character development, a satisfying resolution, and non-fiction, like factual assertions and thoroughly researched novel propositions? Or is it just fruitless, public onanism to approximate what a session with a psychiatrist suffering from both verbal diarrhea and a penchant for coke must feel like? Is this much introspection, no matter how well-crafted it is, healthy? Whose ego, really, benefits the most from a novel of this nature existing?

But wouldn't you agree that a narrative comprising nothing but an endless string of questions is the ultimate success of showing rather than telling? And that maybe a deliberate schtick can also be the most successful execution of this irony that the kids find so hip today, a deft obfuscation of something worthwhile by a chintzy exterior? 

Would it surprise you that being asked for your opinions and reactions and preferences between two equally terrible scenarios would teeter equally between mild tedium and forcing your imagination to confront this seemingly endless stream of solicitation to the extent that you did, in fact, many times go spiraling down the rabbit hole of a self-propelled "What if... ?" game that led you to find this novel, ultimately, more charming than grating.

If you choose to pen a review in the style of a book like this, do you frame your own questions to obliquely express your opinion? Or to show off your own damnable cleverness with half-vapid, half-quirky queries that don't really relate to the preceding or following ones? Or do you embrace this as an opportunity to trot out some of the useless trivia that no one but yourself knows you have stored away in fervent anticipation of a future "Jeopardy!" success (for which you also have a short biographical nugget also at the ready)?

And do you consult a thesaurus so you're not using the word "question" in every sentence if you do choose to write an homage-flavored review? (Did you know that the dictionary program on my aged work Mac only proffered three viable alternatives to the word "question"? Do you not understand how difficult it is to alternate among the same few words without sounding like a lexically bereft simpleton?)

How annoyed do you get when you realize that what you thought were original ideas -- like likening a novel of reader-aimed questions to an inquisitive, paler cousin of If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, or scribbling a list of questions upon which to build a gimmicky review only to scratch them out one by one as the book preemptively regifts them to you in better packaging -- are discovered to be conclusions at which better minds arrived before you? Does it bother you in the way that simply inconsiderate gestures do, like when casually strolling pairs maintain the two-person width between themselves even as you try to pass them and are forced to detour off the sidewalk as you give them a dirty look that neither buffoon has the decency to see, or does it eat at your otherwise affable demeanor the way that potentially fatal discourtesies do, like when people drive in recklessly dismissive ways with not a thought to the motorists with whom they're sharing a road and also threatening with a vehicular manslaughter charge waiting to happen because they have one hand on their phone, one holding a cup of coffee and neither eye on the road?

Are you more bothered by this because you felt genuine ownership of these observations or because asking them anyway may make you look like an intellectual thief? Or do you find some comfort in knowing that at least one other person has pondered the same musings you thought no one else entertained and are relieved that others have at least been forced into awareness of thoughts that now feel less isolating and more communal? Is losing some of the novelty of previously unshared ruminations worth gaining tenuous unity?

Would you think less of me if I admitted that I read 164 pages of questions solely as an excuse to write a review comprising nothing but questions? Can you reasonably expect a review of a wholly interrogative novel to be anything else?

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