Style always changes; as does syntax.
American English grammar and rhetoric is working towards reducing sentence structure. British English is the exact opposite; its current trends are to expand sentence structures. The opposing evolution is becoming so different that I think it's by 2012 that the two will be considerent separate languages.
As far as your reaction to contemporary styles, I'd have to side with your wife. You don't need archaic, antiquated structures with tons of vocabulary to write quality fiction; you need to understand plot and sublot, how to classify your characters, and give them depth. Also, authors reflect current trends in their genres; it is only natural that they address contemporary issues and align them with ageless/timeless archetypes and mythos. But as with all things subjective, if you wear "blinders" over your consciousness and assume just because an author is contemporary that his or her work will not hold up to classic authors' styles, I think you're cheating yourself from many beautiful stories in the world.
Any "deep level" is just your mind's way of realizing interconnectivity between the novel and your own reality. I can have an epiphany reading a bazooka wrapper if the timing and conditions are appropriate for me to develop widsom based off what the wrapper said.
Granted, that's a bit of an extreme example, but it shows the point that nobody will read the same exact novel and walk away with the exact same impression. That's the beauty of art.
I judge a novel/author not so much by the techniques used to create their stories, but moreso on how it leaves me feeliing while I'm reading and after I finish the book. It almost always comes down to making characters that are believable, fantastic, and heroic. When the characters are so believable that you stop realizing you're reading about them and have been swallowed into the story with them...that's when I say the novel is well written.
Growing up John Steinbeck was one of my favorite authors. Some of my all-time favorite classics are John Knowles's "A Separate Peace," Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist," and William Golding's "The Lord of the Flies." Some contemporary novels I highly recommend are Anne Rice's "Cry to Heaven," Ursula Le Guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness," and Ken Follett's "The Pillars of the Earth."
But my all-time hero in all things artistic is Oscar Wilde. In my opinion, he's the greatest author of the English-speaking culture to date.