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Writing in the Interrogative Mood: A Date?

Updated on November 2, 2011

I recently finished reading Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood, a sort-of novel/memoir written in all questions. Yes, seriously, every single sentence in the book ends in a question mark.

The questions are bizarre, obtuse, occasionally impenetrable, but always thought-provoking. Along the way, Powell reveals some startling insights into his own life and mind, insights which serve more to provoke reflection and evaluation than to paint a snapshot of one man's life and memories.

There are several ways to read The Interrogative Mood. The first is as memoir-- what does the book reveal about its narrator. The second is as a personal experience, what goes through your mind as you read these questions, and how might your opinions or attitudes be changed by the end. The third, and possibly the most useful for the writer, is as a 164 page long list of writing prompts.

So, inspired Powell, I've written my own piece of interrogation. Don't read into it too much, please. It's a short story, not a memoir. The story is about a first date, what we say on these often torturous exercises not so different from a job interview, and what we might really think and mean behind the polite conversation.

A Date?

So, what exactly is it that you do? Do you know that when I say that I mean for a living, not in your spare time, or on vacation, or in the privacy of your room with the shades drawn?

Where did you grow up? Would you classify your childhood as happy or unhappy? Have you been married? If so, are you currently married, and if yes, do you find yourself with feeling persistent urges to commit unsavory acts with persons who are not your spouse?

Would you classify yourself as clinically insane, garden variety crazy, or none or all of the above? Have you heard the expression “wanting something so badly that you’d give your right arm for it”? How about your left arm, or your leg, or your eye? Would the particular body part in question be a large or minor factor in your ultimate decision to sacrifice said part, appendage or otherwise?


Why do people wrap shrimp in bacon? Would you eat shrimp wrapped in bacon? How about wrapped in rare roast beef, or aragula? Why do the second toes on some people’s feet extend further than their big toes? Are you repulsed by these kinds of toes? Are you repulsed more by the single toe itself, or the foot as a whole? Shall we place our orders?

Would you agree that, in a nutshell, the state of our American union has reached an abysmal all-time low, but is potentially on the road to recovery, or that no matter what year it is, people always think the state of moral, economic, or political affairs were better ten years ago?

Why are people fond of using the phrase “in a nutshell” to preface remarks that are either overly simplistic or really far too drawn out and convoluted to fit in the proverbial nutshell? Do you enjoy cracking nuts? Are you nuts? Do you think I am nuts, and if I were a nut, would you want to crack me? Would you serve me sweetened with honey, roasted, toasted, or lightly salted?

Do you prefer salted oceans or chlorinated pools for swimming? What is your opinion of blue-green algae? What is your opinion on the theory of evolution and at what point do you think we will drop the modifier “theory” from the phrase? Are you ready to order?

Have you ever thrown a shoe at someone? Would you like to throw a shoe at someone? Which famous dead person would you most prefer to throw a shoe at? Would you mind if I threw a shoe at you? Would you believe me if I told you that I once climbed twenty feet down to a promontory of rock at the Grand Canyon in a pair of flip-flops? Would you like more wine?

Would you believe me if I told you that I once thought I had the capacity to give my arm, right or left, for the case of passion, but now find this hypothetical prospect to be somewhat unspectacular compared to the everyday challenges of loving another person? Would you prefer to die before or after your husband or wife? Do you realize that no matter which answer you pick, I will still think your choice is selfish?

Do you eat shellfish? Do you ever wonder if there is something insidious lurking at the bottom of your soup bowl? Can you remember the last time you walked barefoot through long grass without fear of stepping on something hard, pointed, sticky, stinky, or otherwise uncomfortable?

Do sex scenes in movies make you feel unsettled or exited? Have you ever taken a bath in your clothing? Can you remember a time when you felt utterly naked despite the fact that you were wearing all your clothes?

Do you feel a measure of sympathy for the lobster? What about the chicken, goat, lamb, or cow? Do you accept hypocrisy as an inevitable part of your everyday existence, or struggle against it with all your powers of reason and superior intellect?

If you were locked in a barn with five chickens and one cow, how long do you think you could survive? Do you prefer ranch to blue cheese? Do you make instantaneous assumptions about people depending on whether they prefer, for example, ranch to blue cheese, or Coke to Pepsi?

Did you know that I prefer Coke to Pepsi, and don’t have an opinion when it comes to blue cheese or ranch? Do you believe me when I say this? Do you care? Did you know that I once got a bee sting that swelled to a lump the size of a grapefruit on my inner thigh? Did you know that more than anything else, I just want to be loved? Do you want dessert? Have you ever been in love? How about coffee? Could you love me? Shall we share a cab?


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    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 6 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      Fantastic set of questions. Thought provoking.

    • Anaya M. Baker profile image

      Anaya M. Baker 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Pamela, dahoglund and Jason, thanks for visiting! The story was indeed a lot of fun! I actually never really did much dating, too shy when I was younger, then went through the series of serious long-term relationships. Needless to say, way back when I might have had one or two dates, I don't think I ever got asked for a second time! Maybe a slightly faulty filter between my mouth and my brain, or maybe the fact that the whole experience felt more like a job interview.

      Jason, hot steaming porridge with strawberries and cream or something along those lines! I love writing at hubpages because unlike a lot of other sites, it seems to have attracted some really curious and intelligent minds, not to mention brilliant writers. Publishing is a someday dream for me...And yes the book was completely exhausting. Kind of a love to hate it experience.

    • Jason R. Manning profile image

      Jason R. Manning 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Exceptional hub, not too mention hilarious. You must have had some real fun coming up with your first date reflections. Unsavory indeed! This is worth reading a few times. Are you sure you aren’t professionally published yet? Your hubs are making the rest of ours look like ice cold porridge.

      So did it get exhausting trying to read an entire book written in question form? Cheers.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      If I can remember as far back as dating, I think that conversation would have been more productive than the ones I had on first dates.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      "The Interrogative Mood" sounds like an intriguing book and certainly not like something I've read before. I'm glad you stuck with it because it enabled you to write this very thought provoking interesting hub. Rated up, and interesting

    • Anaya M. Baker profile image

      Anaya M. Baker 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks for the good feedback! I'm always hesitant to put creative stuff out there...Honestly, when I first started reading "The Interrogative Mood" I wanted to throw the book across the room. But after I stuck with it for a chapter or so, it really made me think not just about writing but the whole experience of it, how much is passive, just taking it in, and how much exists in the mind of the reader. Does the act of reading actually encompass two separate narratives, the one on paper and the one in the mind of the reader.

    • BakerRambles profile image

      BakerRambles 6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      I want to say bravo, a poem that truly reflects not only the author your reenacting, but also displaying the methodology of Socrates and his answer to a answer in the form of questioning. I really enjoyed this, more so than anything ive seen in the past few years perhaps, well done.

    • BWD316 profile image

      Brian Dooling 6 years ago from Connecticut

      very nice hub! I was intriqued by the novel you mention, "The Interrogrative Mood: A Novel?" and how it would work with every sentence ending in a question, then i scrolled down to your short story and it makes sense. Great little story, as i read the story the questions gave me different perspectives, sometimes i felt as if it were my own narrative other times i felt like i was watching the thoughts of the first date from an outside perspective. voted up!


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