Experiments in Fiction

Recently I started to read a novel called “The Interrogative Mood : A Novel” by Padgett Powell.  This novel is unusual, because every sentence in this book is a question.  I’d read good things about this book, and it seemed like a fascinating idea for a novel.  The novel is entirely a collection of random questions.  Here is an example from the book.

  • Do you regard living with routines as liberating or shackling?
  • Will you wear rain gear or do you prefer just getting wet?
  • If your survival depended on it, do you think there are things you would not eat?
  • Do you sympathize with the outlaw?

These questions draw you in as you think what your answers would be.  But after about twenty pages, I tired of these random questions and wanted some kind of story, some kind of progression.  Then I gave up on the novel.  It would have been a good thing if the author, instead of just asking random questions, would have attempted to tell a story via questions.  That would be a worthy goal which could probably be accomplished.

“The Interrogative Mood” would be called an experimental novel.  Sometimes I want more out of fiction than just another realistic family saga or another historical pageant.  I’ve read way too many novels about the bishop, the bishop’s wife, and their wayward children.  Some of my greatest reading experiences have been so-called experimental novels.  In Don Quixote, Cervantes puts himself in as a character in his own story.  In Canterbury Tales, Chaucer himself is the bumbling tour guide for his group of pilgrims.  In Ulysees, James Joyce celebrates one day in the life of Leopold Bloom in as many different ways as possible over the course of 930 pages.

One novel which I’m meaning to read soon is “A Void” by Georges Perec.  This 300-page novel was written without ever using the letter ‘e’.  A worthy goal.

One of my favorite experimental novelists is David Markson.  Three of his novels which I have read are “This is not A Novel”, “Wittgenstein’s Mistress”, and “The Last Novel”.  Markson describes his novels as “literally crammed with literary and artistic anecdotes” and “nonlinear, discontinuous, collage-like, an assemblage.”  Each of the entries in these novels stands on its own, yet together they meet the requirements for telling a story.  I read the entire “This is not a Novel” on a flight to Europe.  The literary anecdotes were fascinating, the short entries did not require undue attention, and all of them somehow fit into a convincing narrative.   For something completely different, try David Markson.

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