I just finished reading two TERRIFIC books-Denis Lehane's The Given Day and Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed. Both are great big fat books with wonderful characters. Books whose reading you stretch out because you don't want them to end.
The setting of The Given Day is Boston in the early 1900's. It includes the Spanish flu pandemic, the Boston police strike of 1919, unions, Communism, racial prejudice, and a Catholic family torn apart by differences in opinions. Lehane is a wonderful writer.
The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb references Columbine and its after effects, women's prisons, Katrina, and a family history dating back to the Civil War era. Within minutes of reading a Wally Lamb book, one is totally involved in the lives of the characters. His other two novels are fantastic, too (She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True).
I'm desperately searching for a novel as good as either of these. I think it will take me awhile to find something to compare, always a problem after reading a great book!
I'm reading Gilead by Marilyne Robinson. So far, it is sadly, superbly beautiful in it's rendering of the human spirit. I highly recommend it. It won a Pulitzer prize as well, but that wasn't what attracted me to it. I heard the author do a reading on City Arts and Lectures and was entranced.