Patrick McCabe wrote a book called The Butcher Boy. There are a lot of great things to be said about the novel, but here are a few specifics I hope to find in every story I read.
Tension is present at all moments of the story, and Francie Brady is written in such a way that the tension becomes more powerful as the story moves forward; I care about him.
There are real consequences for Francis when his mother dies. There are real consequences for Francis when he gets into fights with other characters. I repeat: there are real consequences.
The town has a history and that history plays a role in the present. This is achieved without a hundred pages of back story that read like a history book instead of a novel.
McCabe uses voice to capture Francie Brady's Ireland and does so without forgetting that he was telling a story. The voice doesn't get carried away and talk simply out of admiration for itself.
Although this is a realist novel, realism is not required in order for a writer to create characters whom a reader can connect to. And that's something I want desperately.
Characters in quirky situations that are created by writers who are so smart that they forget their first job is to tell a story bore me more than anything. In fiction I prefer a failed attempt at honesty to a successful attempt at wit every time I read.
If you want a perfect example of what I'm looking for, The Butcher Boy is it.