Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
I went into this book with some pretty high expectations and I was not disappointed. Woodrell manages to paint the bleakest of scenes with beautiful prose. While the subjects are lowly, the language stays lyrical (if only Denis Johnson did the same).
There have been some comparisons to Faulkner and they make perfect sense. The author shows an incredible amount of skill in description as well as tension. And I can't ignore the way Woodrell manages to catch that Southern Missouri dialogue without painting them as stereotypical hillbillies.
My only complaints might be that the novel is so short (I would have read much more) and an unnecessary note of optimism at the end.
It is a great thing to read a book that lives up to the reviews, and there's nothing much better than finishing a good book.