From The Daily Beast:
The Nest—a first novel by a woman, a bright-lighted family story—offers the kind of pleasure I’ve been missing all these years I’ve been assigned prodigious novels of dark ideas by established men such as Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo, Wallace, and Vollmann. An additional pleasure: The Nest came to me by luck, sent by some ill-informed publicity director who thought I might like such a book, “ill-informed” because I don’t recall ever praising a novel like The Nest. I was curious, gave it an hour, and then the rest of the day, speeding through all 350 pages of Sweeney’s novel. It was like binge-watching a cable TV series. In fact, The Nest reminded me of early episodes of Netflix’s Bloodline, also about siblings’ inheritance imperiled by a ne’er-do-well brother. The Nest is not just about money—a multi-million dollar trust fund—but is being promoted by money, the million-dollar advance the publisher proudly announced was paid for this first novel by an unknown writer. Sweeney and some other recent debut novelists who have been paid huge advances seem to be shaping a new genre for fledgling writers.
. . . .
The pat endings broke the spell for me. I recognized—belatedly, I admit—that The Nest is not really about character. Sweeney may not have intended her title to refer to the security provided by her gossipy style, but paging back through the novel, I realized that I never had to worry about coming upon some disturbing sensibility, original metaphor, syntactical oddity, evidence of an intricate pattern, mysterious allusion, or alien setting. No, The Nest is formed from familiar twigs to hold in fledgling readers who cheep for their next helping of plot from the pre-digesting mother/author. That’s when I remembered the money. To pay out a million dollars for The Nest, the publisher must have calculated that it is as secure a commodity as the novel is a safe fiction for readers.
I understand the economic strategy: a novelist with no history (of mediocre sales) can be publicized as the Big New Find because the author has been given a Big Old Advance. But I worry that Sweeney’s book and some other fairly recent first novels with huge advances—Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves, and Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire—suggest young writers are creating what I’ll call commercialit. All of these novels have at least one character who is either an English teacher or a writer, the existence of whom in the text implies that the novel must be literary. But the literariness of the four is a patina of fictional sophistication scumbled over conventional and therefore commercial components. Even if the characters don’t end up well, at least some readers do—entertained, unthreatened, and pleased to feel they’ve not been reading commercialock: commercial schlock.
Link to the rest at The Daily Beast and thanks to Dave for the tip.