I’m not finished yet — just over 25 percent complete, according to my Kindle — but I’m quite confident Padgett Powell’s new novel is the best book of the year. Written entirely in the form of questions, The Interrogative Mood seems to be the perfect delivery method for Padgett’s stylistic precision, moral power, absurdist muscularity, and barreling ennui. Whereas previous books of his had sparkled with a kind of mathematical intelligence when it came to structure and pacing, there had always been for me the sense that the great tiger of an author lurked between the paragraphs, his great paws ready to do the real harm of storytelling previously confined or at least somewhat limited by the boundaries of a typical novel.
That’s over! Padgett is unleashed! I’ll reserve further judgment until I finish, but I wanted to share this absolute gem:
If you had enough money to live on, could you see retiring to a small village in France and never being heard of or from again, and not speaking French when there, mostly because you can’t but also because you have nothing to say and you’d have no one to say it to if you had something to say, and mostly just sleeping in your quaint medieval stone cottage? Could you make do with a little exercise once in a while and a piece of Beaufort of very high quality? And maybe a look-in on the pigs? What if the cartoonist R. Crumb were your neighbor? Would you sleep better, or worse, or the same knowing R. Crumb was your neighbor in the next quaint stone medieval cottage in the South of France. Would life go on, or would you have to move to another village, or would you have to abandon the idea of retiring to France altogether realizing R. Crumb had done it and he was the tip of an iceberg going back through hundreds of persecuted sensitive American martyrs, from the Josephine Bakers and James Baldwins and Paul Robesons to the precious Fitzgeralds all the way up to the profane California cartoonists — wouldn’t you just be so yanked out of the frame that you’d feel it would be better to move not to gentle France but to, say, Burma where like Jeffrey Dahmer in prison you could be killed almost instantly when you set foot there? Wouldn’t it be better to have a Muslim in Burma put a cobra in your suitcase on day two than go through the long pleasant sunset desuetude of retiring silently in France? Would it, in fact, not be better were you to assassinate ten or so pleasant silent American retirees on your way out of sunny France en route to your rude and immediate fatal neurologic toxic death in Burma? Would there not be cause for wild cheer among a certain kind of depression-suffering person who reads the headline “Suspected Slayer of Cartoonist R. Crumb Victim of Cobra in Burma”? Would it be the worst thing said of you that your last act was expended on behalf of the depressed? Do you want something said of you, or nothing said of you, when you go?
Earlier: Padgett Powell has a desire to break your heart; or, there are a few times in your life when you meet someone truly great. Even better when that greatness makes you want it, not fear it.