One writer I admire tremendously is Richard Yates. His style is very straightforward and without flash, yet he uses his unadorned style to portray lives of quiet desperation. I can't read his books too often because his characters are so sad, often without even realizing it - they are people who have dreams that will never be achieved, most often because they sabotage themselves or simply don't even recognize their dreams.
Disturbing the Peace is not one of Yates' best books, but even his lesser works have a great deal to offer. In one paragraph, he tell his readers everything they need to know about a character:
[Janice Wilder] was thirty-four and the mother of a ten-year-old son. The fading of her youth didn't bother her - it hadn't been a very carefree or adventurous youth anyway - and if her marriage was more an arrangement than a romance, that was all right too. Nobody's life was perfect. She enjoyed the orderly rotation of her days; she enjoyed books, of which she owned a great many; and she enjoyed her high, bright apartment with its view of mid-town Manhattan towers. It was neither a rich nor an elegant apartment, but it was comfortable - and "comfortable" was one of Janice Wilder's favorite words. She was fond of the word "civilized," too, and of "reasonable" and "adjustment" and "relationship." Hardly anything upset or frightened her: the only things that did - sometimes to the point of making her blood run cold - were things she didn't understand.
You can guess that Janice won't take it well when, in the very next paragraph, she learns her husband has had a nervous breakdown.
I highly recommend Yates' novels Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade. (Caveat: Don't read them if you're looking for something to cheer you up.)