William Dean Howells was way famous back in the day as a writer, magazine editor, literary critic, and best buddy of Mark Twain. He termed himself a realist, which as far as I can make out, means that he was against melodrama of the heaving bosom variety. This is a charming book (and actually does include a couple of heaving bosoms), with real insights into people's flaws and delusions. Howells is an accurate observer - I guess that's where the realism comes in; I had several instances where I recognized a feeling or a situation from my own life described so well that it seemed Howells was speaking directly to me.
The fellow who wrote the introduction in my edition mentioned a certain lack of urgency in Howell's writing, and it's true that the writing can feel leisurely, but in this particular book, it's perfectly suited to the story. Characters drift complacently along, bon mots and witty nonsense at the ready, and Howells lightly ironic writing drifts right along with them. It doesn't have the sturm and drang seriousness of a late Henry James, but I like it all the better for that.