In his youth, Ted Gioia determined that there were exactly four ways that a contemporary novel could earn adulation from the literary establishment:
First, the novel could make its mark for its experimental excesses, and, in this case, the more difficult and insufferable the reader found the work, the more likely that it was a masterpiece.
Second, the novelist could earn acclaim for a work, or even an entire oeuvre, by leading a lifestyle that was sufficiently bohemian, drug and alcohol ravaged or otherwise transgressive — think of Norman Mailer stabbing his wife, Ken Kesey ingesting massive quantities of LSD, etc.
Third, a novelist could hit it out of the park by addressing a pressing social issue, employing fiction as a tool of advocacy for some righteous cause — a good book was a book that did good.
Finally, if all else failed, a writer could take the path of Portnoy’s Complaint, Lolita and Updike’s collected works by mixing in dizzying doses of sex, preferably excluding the standard missionary position between husband and wife, and ideally leading to a book burning, obscenity charges from a D.A. in a southern state or, at a minimum, outraged parents demanding a novel’s removal from a school library.
Those were the four recipes. No others existed, as far as I could see. And if following them was still no guarantee of literary acclaim, certainly ignoring all four of them was a sure predictor of perdition.