I just finished reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and it was one of my favorite reads in recent years. I read Strout's debut novel, Amy and Isabelle, years ago, and found it breathtaking.
Olive Kitteridge is a novel in stories, mostly centered around the oafish and oblivious Olive, a schoolteacher and pharmacist's wife, but also the folks who live in her small Maine town. I love character-driven stories and this book is all about character. Each short story has its own story arc, and is beautiful independently.
But through the collection of stories, the reader follows Olive wading through life with oblivion, anger, and sadness. Yet it's her brief moments of self-awareness -- she is very observant, but about everyone else and rarely herself -- that are startling in their simplicity.
Strout won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for this beautiful book. I think it's a must-read for writers who want to study the art of characterization.