Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
This novel is a romance in both a literary and non-literary sense. While setting up sensually precise tableaus of life in aristocratic Colombia, Márquez also tells the story of Florentino Ariza, who begins a love affair with Fermina Daza, only to lose her to a wealthy doctor, Juvenal Urbino. Márquez senses that people often cling secretly to the fantasy of reattaining their first, great love. Thus Ariza's desire for Daza never dies and he rushes to court her when she is widowed in her seventies. Prior to this event, though, Florentino, Juvenal and Fermina change in all-too-human ways, not only physically aging but also growing into the pleasures of middle age while losing youth's illusions. I particularly enjoyed the way Márquez stains every character with irrational impulses and moral flaws, thus pulling them away from neat fictionality and closer to tragic reality.