Padgett Powell

by Jess

Padgett Powell has written several novels, including The Interrogative Mood, which is composed entirely of questions.  No answers, just questions.  For example:

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?

Knee-Jerk published an excerpt of the book here.  It’s really remarkable, and I’m very interested to read the work in its entirety to see if this kind of affectation can possibly be sustained in a book-length manuscript.  HarperCollins says, “A novel composed entirely of questions, it is perhaps the most audacious literary high-wire act since Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine or David Foster Wallace’s stories; a playful and profound book that, as Jonathan Safran Foer says, ‘will sear the unlucky volumes shelved on either side of it. How it doesn’t, itself, combust in flames is a mystery to me.'”

Knee-Jerk also spoke with Powell about the book, in what appears to be one of the most frustrating, albeit hilarious, interviews ever conducted:

KJ: Some readers might suggest that many of the questions do not follow logically, (“Are you much taken by jewelry? Do you recall the passion you had as an undergraduate for philosophy? Do you have a headache?” etc.). Yet there feels to me like the book loosely follows patterns that hint at a sense of movement (thematic repetition, follow-ups to previous questions, etc.). What informed the placement of the questions?

PP: A new one follows upon the last.

KJ: So they were pretty much printed in the order you wrote them?

PP: Yes.

KJ: Were any questions written in response to specific events, or in fact written, to your mind, randomly?

PP: There is no random, try as you might. There are degrees of allowed sequitur, at need.

KJ: I’m interested in hearing about the editorial process you went through with the book. How much input did you receive from your editor?

PP: Zero.

KJ: How does the published book differ from the initial drafts?

PP: It does not.

KJ: In The Interrogative Mood there are many questions about evolution, biology, and morality. I can’t help but wonder to what extent such questions are matters you’ve found yourself wrestling with, either prior to or during the process of writing the book.

PP: I’ve not wrestled beyond the asking.

KJ: I’m curious about the narrator, the “I.” I’m thinking here of lines such as this, from early in the book: “Did you hear about the local couple who drowned in Nova Scotia? Did you know that I knew the man, and that I once saw him wrestle an emu into the back of a truck by himself, and that I am therefore skeptical that he drowned in Nova Scotia or anywhere else?” Would you say that the book is in any way autobiographical?

PP: It is. It was my truck.