Thanks to a little encouragement from a friend, I was able to fill a "literary lacuna" this summer by reading and thoroughly enjoying "Dead Souls" by Nicolai Gogol. If you live in the US and are a Kindle person, you can order Gogol's complete works, including the above mentioned novel, free of charge.
I don't know when I have read such a relentless (intended positively) concatenation of character studies of mostly men, but also of a couple of women, all placed on the scales of life, scrutinized and found wanting. The novel spares no one from least to greatest except for priests (whew!). If the book wasn't so humorous and were it not for the appearance in its final chapter and for the counsel provided by Murazov, the great landowner, to three of the book's very different and tragic souls, then the emptiness, folly or futility of so many lives would probably send one screaming.
As it is, I find myself wondering why Dostoyevsky gets such high marks and Gogol comes up short in the anthologies. If you know Gogol or after reading him have some thoughts about why this Slavic Dickens hasn't made the cut, let me know!