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.