The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder Paperback – Sep 28 2010
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“Elliott may be writing under the influence, but it's the influence of genius.” ―Vanity Fair
“Elliott writes with a grace and precision that calls to mind Truman Capote's landmark work, In Cold Blood. He, too, is fascinated by questions of motive, how our capacity to love is disfigured into evil, and our tangled mechanisms of denial.” ―The Boston Globe
“A searing, self-conscious memoir of drug addiction, obsession and art as a means of survival.” ―Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“It opens with this line: ‘My father may have killed a man,' then continues for 208 taut, high-wire, brilliant pages . . . With candor so raw it makes me never want to use ‘fiercely honest' to describe another writer's work.” ―Las Vegas Weekly
“You won't find a more provocative, masterful, thrilling ride than this.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books, including Happy Baby, a finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Award. He is also the founding editor of the online culture magazine TheRumpus.net.
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Events are not presented in chronological order, yet the narrative is understandable and relatively easy enough to navigate nevertheless. While not for everyone, particularly those with tender sensibilities, this book is a remarkable read. Those who peruse its pages will be rewarded by the creativity, insight, and pure art-form that comprise Elliot's writing. The subject matter is incredibly disturbing, yet like Adderall, a Schedule D amphetamine from whence the author's addiction lent the book its name, once you fall into the story it is extraordinarily challenging to break free.
In some ways a real-life version of John O'Brien's heartrending Leaving Las Vegas, Elliot's book was supposed to have been a true-crime drama, yet it morphed into an autobiography along the way. The backdrop is the nearly six month trial of Hans Reiser, a brilliant but curmudgeonly Linux programmer, who was accused of killing his estranged wife Nina. Despite hiring a respected attorney, Hans' narcissistic personality, peculiar behavior, and condescending manner undermine his case before the jury. The proceedings take a bizarre twist when Sean Sturgeon, Nina's former lover and Hans' closest friend, enters the picture. A BDSM (bondage and discipline, sadism masochism) aficionado who traveled in the same twisted circles as Elliot before becoming a born-again Christian, Sean not only confessed to eight (7 ½ really) unrelated murders but also, according to Hans, played a considerable role in Nina's disappearance as well. As the trial began, her body had not been found.
Regarding Sturgeon, the author relates, "I've heard of him digging a knife in his own arm, carving RAGE, or standing naked in the middle of a room while several women strike at him with leather straps, his blood pooling at his feet. But, that was before he became a Christian. Now he goes to church every week, volunteers at the soup kitchen on weekends... I'm sitting across from a man who may be a murderer, but I can't tell." In an extraordinary coincidence, Elliot's own father also confessed to a murder in his memoirs that he may or may not have committed. Unlike fiction, truth really does not always have to make sense.
The truth of Elliot's life is that it has been crammed with heartbreak and misfortune. Tortured by a father who beat and intimidated him, he watched his mother slowly die from multiple sclerosis as a youth, emptying her urine bucket as she lay atrophied upon the couch too weak to care, before running away after she passed on. Shuffling amongst group homes, he lost four close childhood friends to overdose or suicide in six years. Ultimately he found release in drugs and violent sex, working as a stripper, a drug dealer, a professor, and a writer, among other things. While these experiences are nearly as painful to read as they must have been to endure, he has learned to transcend his anguish to write about relationships, love, and loss with brilliant, memorable prose. One sentence alone makes for poignant example, "But I don't know about Mike yet, the taste of gun like a mouthful of coins, his wife, five months pregnant with a second child, stopping in front of the door with no idea what awaits her inside."
Stephen Elliot is the author of seven books, including the critically acclaimed novel Happy Baby. His writing has been featured in mainstream magazines such as Esquire and GQ, and newspapers like the New York Times, as well as unconventional publications such as The Best American Erotica and Best Sex Writing. A guy who intimately understands depression, addiction, and life's bitter challenges, he tackles thorny subjects in interesting, meaningful, and, ultimately, enlightening ways. His newest work, The Adderall Diaries, is an unforgettable read.
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Note: originally reviewed in the Sep/Oct '09 issue of ForeWord Magazine
Steven Elliot was from Chicago, where his Cambodian father settled after immigrating, his mother died a premature death from MS (multiple sclerosis), leaving his father a young widower. He soon remarried, and started a new family. Elliot spent most of his teens in a boys home, unwanted/unclaimed, his father appeared in court, mostly to provoke Elliot in rage; refusing to disclose his home address.
Elliot would spend most of his young adult life homeless, keeping his possessions including his snowboard and bicycle in his car. In traveling he noted Nevada 50 as "the loneliest road in America." He had many friends, the lovers he had were usually inappropriate for him. He was attracted to women who hurt/humiliated him, masochism he was well aware of, yet unable to change, powerless to prevent.
Elliot was contacted by his father who wrote negative insulting reviews for his books on Amazon; he also earned extra income writing, journalism, and filing reports for 20/20. Elliot noted Geoff Dyer's book: "Out of Sheer Rage" and how Dyer worked through a major depressive episode studying the writing of D.H. Lawrence. William Styron the author of "Darkness Visible", spent time in mental hospitals, often incoherent by pills and treatment, was cared for by his wife in his later years, meeting her as a brilliant young writer. Elliot also wrote about Sylvia Plath's suicide, and Norman Mailers observational quote: "The private terror of the liberal spirit is invariably suicide and not murder."
The side effects Elliot experienced from increased dosages of Adderall were troublesome: the anxiety, tension, anger, forgetfulness, yet he felt the medication gave him confidence, he was often unable to write without the meds. He referenced Elizabeth Wurtzel, at 40, a beautiful student in law school, writer of "Prozac Nation": who chronicled more memoirs of mental illness and addiction to pills.
Elliot was aware of Nina Reiser's mysterious 2006 disappearance: a mutual friend had been in love with her, and reportedly sending her money. Strangely, his friend confessed to eight murders, all unproven; prompting Elliot to write about this crime. Nina's husband Hans, had met her while on a business trip in Russia, she was a beautiful gynecologist, wishing to practice in the US. Han's was a brilliant computer programmer who assisted in developing the Linux computer operating system. He and Nina married in 1998, and had two children. Han's was found guilty of her first degree murder in April 2008, and led investigators to Nina's body: (for a reduced sentence), buried in a shallow grave, near a public park in Oakland, CA. This story was covered by various true crime media shows.
This was a sensationally well written book, there were no fillers or gaps in the storyline that induced boredom. It was unfortunate the way Elliot's father treated him throughout, unaware of the problems and life long difficulties his son was facing. If Elliot bore ill will or need for revenge against his father, it seemed to be a quick/passing emotion, as he attempted to seek a meaningful connection. Highly recommended!
It sounds like a lot of plates to keep spinning and Elliott does it with seeming effortlessness (which is never effortless when you try to write such things). The pace never lags, and the compelling, beautifully written voice never lets you down.
His work has an admirable honesty, lovely, sharp, intelligent prose, and a great ability to bring the reader into the emotional landscape of the text.
I could go on, but the short version is that this is one of the best books I've read in a couple of years and I'd HIGHLY recommend that you read it too. 5 stars.
I love the way and style in which the book is written. I could've done without all of the S&M parts, but this is his life and I respect how open he was. It takes a lot of courage to share so much of your story. Once I got past my expectations for the book, I was able to appreciate it for what it was. Stephen did a fantastic job on this memoir and it's definitely not one to pass up.
It takes a terrific writer to weave Stephen's story in with the trial but somehow he's done it...and it's a page turner. I was racing to see what happened next. Great book.