Part Cormac McCarthy, part W.S. Merwin, Woodrell's prose does everything I require from the lyrical, poetic descriptions to the detail-oriented background information without ever getting tripped up. The book does not even stumble. Even though the reader knows the likely outcome, or becomes convinced of it along side the protagonist, the story remains compelling.
One of the main reasons for the book's success is the power of its protagonist Ree Dolly. It is hard not to get behind this sort of bold character and encourage her along even as she makes horrible mistakes. While Ree is such a compelling character, a teenage girl forced to care for her mother and two younger brothers, this is no Catcher in the Rye or any other book carried on the back of an outrageous character. This book is propelled more by the quality of the storytelling than a unique character.
Winter's Bone accomplishes so much for a short novel, which is why it surpasses some of the larger books I read this year. It manages to be traditional without being stodgy. It's nearly a mystery (the section in which I found the book stocked at my local independent bookstore) without being simply plot based. And it has no gimmick.
If I'd have been thinking earlier this season I would have given a copy of the book to everyone on my list. Instead, you'll have to pick it up yourself.