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by Padgett Powell

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-06-185941-0
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

This novel is a one-trick pony, and that trick is a question mark.

Though Powell (Edisto, 1984, etc.) received considerable acclaim for his early work, his latest literary stunt would be wearying in a short story and seems interminable in even a short novel. As the title hints, every sentence is a question (and is certain to inspire some reviews that respond in kind). Some of these questions seem like the sort of personality interview form an applicant might see at a job interview. Some seem more like therapy, or interrogation. Most of them seem random, arbitrary, non sequiturs: “What is the loudest noise you have ever heard? Have you done any mountain climbing? Would you eat a monkey? What broke your heart?” Though the questioner at one point addresses the silent respondee as “dear,” the relationship otherwise seems unspecified. The questioner, however, keeps returning to certain obsessions: bodily functions (particularly excretory), philosophy, pedophilia, coffee, chocolate, clowns, animals, popular music (including a long riff on Jimi Hendrix), word usage, suicide. A few of the questions are almost as long as this review. Is there a thematic pattern to the questions? Or does the lack of a pattern indicate a theme? Does a novel consisting only of questions suggest that there is nothing we can know with sufficient certainty to justify a declarative sentence? Is a novel without plot, dialogue, setting, narrative momentum and characters (except for the person asking the questions and the person/reader to whom they are asked) a novel at all? Less than a third of the way through, the questioner asks, “Have we gone on like this long enough?” Yes! Later, “Does it change things a bit for you to perceive that these questions want you bad? And that they are perhaps independent of me, to some degree? That they are somewhat akin to, say, zombies of the interrogative mood?”