cover image The Secret Habit of Sorrow

The Secret Habit of Sorrow

Victoria Patterson. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $16.95 trade pape (224p) ISBN 978-1-64009-052-1

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. In “Parking Far Away,” an alcoholic newly released from a recovery home to a housekeeping job shares an unexpected moment of empathy with a drunk coworker. “We Know Things” tells of a college girl who bonds with an older woman out of guilt for having “stolen” her mother’s boyfriend years before. “Trees” is about a young boy who is abandoned by his father and fantasizes a familial relationship with the man whom his father killed in an automobile accident. In several of the book’s most affecting stories, characters find temporary fulfillment in surrogate relationships, among them “How to Lose,” in which a young boy and the aunt raising him find that each reminds the other of his dead mother, and “Vandals,” in which a divorcée who feels abandoned by his family shares a moment of platonic intimacy with his teenage son’s estranged girlfriend. 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. (July)