She allows us to feel for her characters but never asks us to pity them. It’s a trait she has in common with Denis Johnson, who also wrote about addiction without condescending to his characters (and who Patterson name-checks, to surprising effect, in 'Confetti') ... Patterson’s accomplished prose is all the more impressive considering her subject matter—she writes about not only addiction but about broken families, unhappy childhoods and sex with a brutal, but never mean-spirited, honesty. She’s particularly gifted at writing about the mechanics of regret ... this sense of missed connections is what makes The Secret Habit of Sorrow such a remarkable collection. Patterson’s stories seldom end neatly; her characters are too real, too stubbornly human to have their problems neatly wrapped up. They’re solitary, even when they’re with others, and they’re adrift even when they seem put together. That kind of desolation can be difficult to put in writing—it’s not easy to read, and it can’t be easy to write. Patterson conveys the desperation of her characters by using spare prose; every sentence has been whittled down to leave only the necessary words.
These stories mostly transpire in the swirl of Los Angeles and its surrounding beach communities—Hermosa Beach, recovery centers in Malibu—peopled by Botoxed, appearance-obsessed, waifish women, men who date women decades younger as if they are disposable, and protagonists who don’t quite fit in this world ... Patterson demonstrates her storytelling prowess in what she leaves unsaid. Rather than write the trauma—a half brother molesting his sister, a father committing incest with his daughter—she lets the characters’ reactions and the trajectories of their lives communicate what she does not explicitly describe ... Patterson has a flare for endings, deftly avoiding tying her stories into tidy, saccharine bows, but neither are they crushingly dark ... Patterson’s spare yet beautiful conclusions are ambiguous, leaving the reader with neither the complete destruction of the character nor the promise that they’ll prosper.
Patterson’s...latest story collection follows characters in the throes of addiction and loss, journeying away from spaces in which they no longer belong ... Characters are plagued by their experiences and afflictions, entangled with the need to cope alongside an urgency to break free. Dark yet assured, Patterson’s short stories expose and explore the complicated ruptures of the human experience.
What do you do when you come across a collection of short stories where you can see the intrinsic worth in each piece, but the collection as a whole leaves you a little cold? ... reading this collection is like walking in on a movie that’s in its second reel and being forced to leave before the final one is unspooled. They don’t feel complete or whole. However, that all said, each story is impeccably well written and you can see why a large swath of them was picked up by literary magazines ...
Patterson comes off as a female version of Charles Bukowski ... most of these stories feel incomplete and are waiting for an additional 200 or 300 pages to get the juiciness wrung out of them. They feel more like postcards written from the edge, with little or no substance to them (other than the substance abuse angle). As such, the stories could read as poetry in a way— which shows that Patterson is, at least, a gifted writer ... [the] stories are in search of a much bigger canvas to be painted on. And that has me split in two.
Bad choices and addiction are common here, but Patterson’s unfussy prose draws the reader into her complex, sometimes even convoluted relationships ... The beating hearts of Patterson’s characters and the directness of her voice make the grim material bearable, sometimes almost hopeful.
Patterson (The Little Brother) offers 16 melancholic tales of souls who are not so much lost as inextricably entangled in their bad habits and behaviors ... Patterson excels at excavating the lighter side of her characters’ otherwise sad experiences to find stories that are amusing and poignant without being overly sentimental.