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Editor's choice

The Interrogative Mood: A Novel? by Padget Powell (Ecco, 164 pages, $21.99). Start with Page One, always an auspicious place to begin. The first words you read are these: "Are your emotions pure? Are your nerves adjustable? How do you stand in relation to the potato? Should it still be Constantinople? Does a nameless horse make you more nervous or less nervous than a normal horse? In your view, do children smell good? If before you now, would you eat animal crackers? Could you lie down and take a rest on a sidewalk? Did you love your mother and father, and do Psalms do it for you?"

And now understand that goes on for 163 more pages of nothing but questions in the new book by 57-year old Padget Powell, which is, quite sensibly, called "A Novel?"

For more than a half century -- when the French masters of the Nouveau Roman decided they could call all sorts of things novels, including loose-leaf pages to be read in any order whatsoever -- people have been rejoicing in the elasticity of fiction and twisting it into all kinds of shapes, interesting and not. Is this experimental? Or just what, in a perfect world, fiction ought to be?

So here, in the clever blurb of Luc Sante (in this particular book, the blurbs from Jonathan Safran Foer, Richard Ford, Ian Frazier, Amy Hempel, Sam Lipsyte and Sante are a creative form in themselves) is a book whose "165 pages do not tell a story -- they tell thousands of stories, all of them starring you."

Which, of course, is not true if you actually read the book. Obviously, it tells you a lot about the endlessly fertile interrogator when, for instance, he asks what you'd do "when a trellis collapses, with a rose in it." He's obviously, at the very least, a man with a trellis. On the other hand, on the opposite page, you're in a wildly miscellaneous brain when you read "are you familiar with the cow pea, and do you find them difficult to locate?"

A wondrous, hilarious book from a writer who has long been one of our more wondrous writers.

-- Jeff Simon

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