Frankly, I find this critical tic of Tanenhaus's--American fiction has abandoned narrative--rather baffling. I defy him to look at the literary fiction shelves (even allowing him to walk past the genre aisles) at Borders and Barnes and Noble and point out what books do not in fact dispense narrative in fairly heavy doses.
Let's invite the same fools and charlatans who dominate the news and opinion sections over to the Book Review and make it into the same kind of intellectual sinkhole.
I should admit that I am a bit of a traditionalist myself, but I had a similar reaction to Tannenhaus's statement. But after looking at the selections and his track record, I think he was just looking for a way of explaining why they liked more fiction this year--without really knowing what he was saying.
We must remember that any review (or best-of list) is entirely subjective. To talk about "relevance" only means that he likes "relevant" books. It shouldn't slow anyone down from writing totally irrelevant books. We might all want a good review in the NYTBR, but that's not why we're writing.