Steven Moore wrote the best history of fiction ever published, as far as i can
tell. His introduction goes to a great length to defend his book from the
traditionalists and revisionists who would like the novel to be just a story,
just the plot. His book, instead, focuses on what the traditionalists call
"experimental" and "avantgarde" novels. Moore shows that such genre has been
around since ancient times. The reason why the traditionalists think that the
experimental novel is a modern invention is, quite simply, that they are
ignorant. He specifically picks on BR Myers, Dale Peck and Jonathan Franzen,
who have criticized the likes of Joyce and Faulkner (and would probably
criticize anything innovative in the arts, or, for that matter, in any
I had a similar goal when writing my "History of Rock Music": focus on the innovative musicians, not (necessarily) on the bestsellers. Moore has a relatively humble approach: he simply wants to remind readers that there is "another" tradition of fiction, that is not just about an interesting plot. I have a bigger goal: to prove that this alternative tradition is the one that really matters. My mathematical proof is very simple: tell a Beatles fan that the Beatles were not innovative and you get skinned alive. As hard as it is to deny that the Beatles simply composed melodic three-minute songs, a Beatles fan wants to hear that those songs were as innovative as anything else. The opposite is not true: the fan of Captain Beefheart or Robert Wyatt does not want to hear that they simply composed melodic songs (and certainly would not believe that they became bestsellers). Therefore it's the very opponent who tends to prove us right: there is an absolute merit in innovation and experimentation (without which, incidentally, we would still be living in caves and writing graffitis on their walls). I doubt that Jonathan Franzen would relish a review of his novels stating "there is absolutely nothing new in this novel", exactly the same reaction that you get from an experimental novelist. Therefore both traditional ones and experimental ones indirectly acknowledge an absolute value. It is not me (piero scaruffi) who has that "subjective" view of the history of literature (and art in general) but the very writers and artists (and fans) who oppose my aesthetic values.
Therefore i have a much stronger bias towards the "experimental" novel than Moore himself has. In a nutshell, i could say that interesting plots tend to become very boring within one or two generations. The plot is very important for a novel to be a novel, but, by itself, it does little to distinguish the novel (even when the current generation finds the plot very interesting for whatever sociopolitical reason).
Moore's book is well summarized in the introduction. Here is a liberal collage of some of its lines: