I absolutely loved Kim Barnes's novel A Country Called Home. I started it one night with the intention of just looking at a couple of chapters and then tossing it aside, but before I knew it I was hooked, and I got up early the next morning to read it, and when I stopped reading it, I not only had to put it down, but I had to take a couple of minutes to let my mind swim, unwillingly, back up to daily consciousness.
The story was an interesting take on a couple's desire to "go back to the land": Thomas and Helen Deracotte go to Idaho to live on the land; it turns out be not quite what Helen wants. They have a daughter, Elise, and a hired hand, Manny, who is in love with Helen. Of course, a variety of tragedies ensue, and although not all the characters are lovable, they do at least seem real. For instance, Thomas is a doctor who, it turns out, doesn't really want to be a doctor. His is an attitude toward doctoring I can understand:
"All through his internship and residency he'd sheltered himself from his growing self-doubt. But then the pediatric ward, the twelve-year-old girl, pallid and shivering with fever. She'd cried as he examined her, covering her face with both hands like a child playing hide-and-seek. He remembered how hot and dry her skin felt beneath his fingers, how the organs bulged and rolled away from his prodding, as though desirous to keep their contagion a secret. Finally, the girl's muffled sobs, the pain his hands invoked, had been too much for him to bear, and he had moved to the next room, where a boy lay whose prognosis was definite..." (p. 36.)
I'm not going to say much more because part of the pleasure of this novel was watching it unfold. Barnes is also a memoirist; I've read and enjoyed her book In the Wilderness. Check either one of these out.