In an essay defending experimental fiction, Marc Lowe writes:
. . .the majority of popular critics and readers the world over, ultimately, still seem to crave the same thing they always have when it comes right down to it: entertainment. Is it not true that most individuals are primarily, if not exclusively, interested in believable characters with memorable names and realistically portrayed attributes (e.g. Samuel Sellers, the rotund jeweler with a tic in his left eye who picks his flat nose with the end of his pipe holder; Linda Lacy, the woman with the sequined stockings who sucks on peeled carrot sticks in order to satiate her oral fixation), plots that resolve themselves in a decisive, if blandly predictable, manner (too many loose ends make for angry readers, despite the public’s ubiquitous cry—which still resounds in chain bookstores around the English-speaking world—for “realistic” and “believable” characters and situations), and, most of all, a clear and understandable (i.e. linear and tidy) storyline with a consistent style of narration (no abrupt shifts in tense/time, no blurring of who’s who or what’s what, etc.), so that there is little or no need to have to stop and think for even a single moment about what may lie hidden beneath the surface of the words written on the page?. . . .
Although I am myself an advocate on behalf of experimental fiction, I think this analysis goes a little too far. More precisely, it doesn't accurately describe the situation as it exists among serious readers of fiction in the early 21st century.
The question isn't really whether "popular critics and readers" accept or reject experimental fiction. The mass audience rejects "literary fiction" of even the most conventional, most character-driven kind. The challenge for experimental writers and sympathetic critics is to convince readers who might be looking for more than "entertainment" to move beyond what now passes for "literary" fiction to consider alternatives that are just as literary, if not as immediately recognizable as variations on an established form. With these readers, the situation is not as dire as Lowe suggests.
Most such readers have surely assimilated the innovations of modernist/postmodernist fiction to the extent they do not expect characters like "Samuel Sellers" and "Linda Lacy." If anything, the norm is now what I have in previous posts called "psychological realism," a technique pioneered by writers such as James, Joyce, and Woolf that seeks to portray the world as it is experienced by the characters in a given novel or story, not necessarily to emphasize those characters' "realistically portrayed attributes" if those attributes are external to consciousness. And I really do believe readers are more tolerant of stories that do not "resolve themselves in a decisive. . .manner" than Lowe gives them credit for (unless the stories are themselves decisively situated in a generic framework that more or less demands resolution of plot details). Indeed, what has variously been called "minimalism" or "dirty realism" is more or less predicated on the assumption that in the end nothing much will happen--on the surface at least. Finally, it seems to me especially true that readers of literary fiction are open to narratives that are structured as something other than "a clear and understandable (i.e. linear and tidy) storyline with a consistent style of narration." Fragmentation, chronological displacement, shifts in point of view, and other forms of non-linear storytelling are quite common in contemporary literary fiction, so common that I would say the sort of naively realistic, unswervingly linear narrative Lowe describes is in a distinct minority among the books that appeal to today's literary reader.
I don't think it does much of a service to experimental fiction to offer as rhetorical straw men either the mass audience who would be just as impatient with John Updike as with Gilbert Sorrentino, or the "anachronistic 19th century model" Lowe complains of. (Aspiring experimental writers could in fact learn quite a lot, about character creation and narrative development, from writers like Dickens and Hardy.) Serious writers will never attract a "popular" audience (I don't see why they would want to), and contemporary fiction for the most part does not proceed according to the 19th-century model. (It is especially mistaken to conclude that 19th-century writers were both relentless storytellers and "realist" in their approach to representation; in many cases the one is in conflict with the other, and these writers can be illustrative of the ways the two impulses can or can't be reconciled.) Better to seek out those readers who may already be at least half-interested in what experimental fiction might accomplish and convince them to risk the other half as well.