Book Review in a Questioning Vein

Have you read Padgett Powell’s new book, Interrogative Mood: A Novel? Are you at least aware of it, perhaps from having read an article about Mr. Powell in the October 18, 2009 edition of the New York Times Magazine? Do I need to remind you that each of the book’s sentences is a question? If this is the first time you’ve heard of the book, have I piqued your curiosity, or are you rolling your eyes, thinking, “For God’s sake! What a silly idea?" If I hadn’t capitalized “God” in that last question, would you have been offended? In a typical day, what is the ratio by which you are offended relative to not being offended? Can you live with that?

Have you already guessed how the rest of this book review is going to go? Do you agree with Ernest Hemingway’s statement that “parody is the last refuge of the frustrated writer?” Or are you confusing that with Brendan Gill’s observation that “parody is homage gone sour?” If I had left out the first names of those authors, would you have asked, “Who’s that?” with regard to Gill, but not Hemingway? Is there a chance you would have asked, “Which Hemingway?” In a fist fight, who do you think would win, Hemingway or Gill? What if Hemingway wielded a shotgun and Gill was armed with nothing but a rolled up copy of the New Yorker? Are you picturing this scenario?

Are you still with me? How many sentences of this review do you think I wrote before realizing that my approach is utterly unoriginal and--if we’re being honest with each other--trite? Can you explain why I insist on pushing forward in this vein? Would you think less of me if I had misspelled it “vane”? Would calling this review a pastiche be a fair characterization, or is that too highfalutin? Have you ever called something highfalutin? Have you had enough of this? What else have you had enough of in your life?

Are you amused or annoyed by non sequiturs? Do you find it disconcerting when a question such as “Are you familiar with the sport of kite fighting?” is juxtaposed with one such as “Do you think of there being a proper point in your debilitation as you age at which you should, if you can, kill yourself?” Would you laugh if the very next sentence is, “Do you have any experience with boils?” When was the last time you used the word "juxtapose"?

Do the questions we pose to others reveal secrets about ourselves? Have you ever had to stuff a dead body in a trunk? Did you see what I just did there? Are you telling us everything? Do you display misanthropic tendencies, by which I mean would you nod your head in agreement upon reading this series of questions: "Do the people you do not wish to talk to far exceed the number you do wish to talk to? Do you have much to say to even those to whom you do wish to speak? Do you know where it went wrong with you"?

Presuming you know such things, who taught you the cocktail party strategy of asking questions to draw people into conversation? Or are you more apt to think, “Enough about you, let’s talk about me?” Are you an actor? Do you quibble over the difference between strategy and tactic? If an author, over the course of 164 pages, asks thousands of questions, many of which are quite personal and blunt, would you have a clear portrait of him by the end of the book, even though he hasn't answered any questions himself? Would you be able to guess the author’s age based on the content of his questions, or in what region he lives? Do you talk about regionalism in the company of friends?

What do you think of this paragraph, which appears on page 27?
If your family had a cat, and the neighbor across the street had a cardinal in a cage, presumably because it could not live in the wild, and your family’s cat tormented the cardinal to death by leaping at and striking the cage, would you feel bad about it all your life? Is feeling bad about something all one’s life anything to particularly feel bad about? Are we redeemed by regret? Do you like going into very cold water? When was the last time you wielded a slingshot? Are you any good? Do you remember Buster Brown shoes? Are you afraid of geese with red carbuncular heads? Can you ski on water? On snow? Are you prepared for the end?

Did you notice how the author, in the midst of a rather bizarre hypothetical situation slipped in that simple line: "Are we redeemed by regret?" How careful do you suppose he was in selecting "carbuncular" as an adjective and can you think of any choice that would have been better?

How about this self-referential paragraph from page 70?
Is there anything you’d like to ask me? Are you curious to know what I’ll do with the answers you’ve given me? Do you think I can make some kind of meaningful “profile” of you? Could you, or someone, do you think, make such a profile of me from the questions I have asked you? If we had these profiles, could we not relax and let them do the work of living for us and take our true selves on a long vacation? Isn’t it the case that certain people are already on to this trick of posting their profiles on duty while simultaneously living private underground lives? Can you recognize these profile soldiers by a certain dismissive calm, a kind of gentle smile about them when other are getting petty? Is in fact the character of the profile-façade person not that which is called wise? And is the person who is congruent with his daily self and who has no remote self regarded as shallow?

Does that last paragraph give you a hint of what to expect from this book? Might it help you understand why I liked this book so much? Are you more inclined to read the book now that you've read this post, or less so? If you have or will read "Interrogative Mood: A Novel?" will you let me know whether you ended up liking or disliking the narrator? Will knowing that I liked the narrator influence you? Would you lie to me?

On a related topic, do you remember that I wrote a review of Willy Vlautin’s book “Motel Life” in parodic form nearly a year ago, and that the Oregonian's arts and culture critic at the time, Barry Johnson, called it “the best book review of the new year...?” Do you realize that Mr. Johnson has not (to my knowledge) called another book review "the best of the year?" Also, are you aware that Mr. Johnson no longer writes for the Oregonian? Help me here, but doesn't that mean that I can now claim bragging rights for writing the best book review of 2009 according to Barry Johnson of the Oregonian, even though 2009 is not yet over?

May I ask just one more question? How can you not laugh at a sentence like this:

"If one man suggests to a second that he resembled Ted Kennedy, and the second in protest said, 'I ain’t got no outside gorilla,' what would his remark mean?"

7 comments:

Mead said...

Did you just about go berserk by the time you finished this review?
Or were you buoyed up by the prerogative (!) of goading the rest of us into the screaming memes (pun intended)?

MTC, you are a rare and wonderful jackanpes. Your review of the new Gourmet cookbook would no doubt push you from droll to drool. Please consider it.

Bob said...

However! Considering we live in a digital age in which the lack of face-to-face conversation requires the extreme use of exclamation points to convey emphasis, I believe the true trailblazing contemporary novel must end every sentence not with a question mark but with an exclamation point! Of this I am positive!

MTC, you must! first! write! that! novel! and then you must! review! it! yourself!

(Smiley faces optional!)

MightyToyCannon said...

Mead, going from "droll to drool" is a description of most of my days--all that changes is the ratio between the two.

Bob! I agree! CAN I ALSO USE CAPITAL LETTERS FOR EMPHASIS!? How about this: A novel in which every sentence has a colon?

Bob said...

Ah!
The possibilities!
They seem, how shall I say: ENDLESS!
Don't they?

Jenny Wren said...

You've sold me, ok? Like, I totally think I need to read this book, don't I? It seems, like, really deep or something...right?

David said...

Does anyone else hear Bob's exclamatory posts as if they were being read by William Shatner?

MightyToyCannon said...

Update: NPR ran a story on "Interrogative Mood" on New Year's Eve, with a short interview with Powell. It's a fun listen.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122125121