In a recent interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Rick Moody says of his new novel, The Diviners, that
Once I knew this novel was going to have a lot to do with TV, I thought the book itself could be structured that way: episodic. . .I really believe an uninterrupted non-continuous narrative is more realistic than American realistic fiction writing.
One appreciates Moody's desire to justify unconventional fiction to readers and book columnists, but his conception of both "realistic fiction writing" and the possible alternative to it is rather fuzzy.
That a novel might be "episodic"--even through mimicking the tv episode--does not mean it can't be "realistic" in the conventional sense of the term. An "episode" is a unit of narrative structure; in a given fiction, this episode could be intensely realistic or utterly fantastic. What Moody is really opposing in his effort to string together "uninterrupted" episodes is what he later calls "that smooth flowing narrative stuff." He wants to disrupt the well-made plot, not subvert realism as the attempt to accurately represent the world via "narrative stuff." In fact, some of the great works of American realism--Huckleberry Finn, The Red Badge of Courage, Winesburg, Ohio--are best described as "episodic" rather that "smooth flowing" in their use of plot. (And the greatest realistic short stories tend to be episodes rather than stories per se--see Chekhov or Joyce or Hemingway.)
Indeed, Moody doesn't really seem to want to abandon realism at all. It's just that his preferred sort of "noncontinuous" narrative is "more realistic" than the traditional kind. One has to conclude from the tenor of his words that Moody believes in the philosophical project of realism--to portray the world "as it is"--but doesn't think conventional story form is any longer adequate in fulfilling it. This was also the assumption behind the original works of "psychological realism" in the early twentieth century. Novels like Ulysses or Mrs. Dalloway or The Sound and the Fury had to "go internal" because the techniques devised by the previous generation of realists, mostly focusing on event and external detail, were proving inadequate to the task of depicting what was "really real" about our sense of the world, namely subjective human consciousness. Various kinds of surrealism and absurdism were developed for more or less the same reason: In an increasingly disordered and absurd world, only disorderly and absurdist narrative strategies would suffice to capture it.
These are all perfectly good ways of dealing with the problem of representation--and had the side benefit of extending the formal possibilities of fiction. But I'm not so sure it's such a good idea to continue to defend innovative fiction--if that indeed is what Rick Moody writes--by arguing that ultimately it's more real than realism. In many ways the debate about unconventional narrative structures has already been won. Most readers of serious fiction are willing to accept discontinuous, circular, and unsettled storytelling. It would be more interesting to see an apologia for experimental fiction that rejected accuracy of representation as a goal, that advocated for a fiction true to its own aesthetic logic rather than to a "reality" that will always remain beyond representation in words, however artfully composed. That built a truly alternative fictional world out of them instead, rather than pretending to re-present the already prosaic world we have to live in.