by Stephen Elliott
At any given moment in our work, no matter how mundane the task, our personal lives will almost always affect the outcome. Sleep, sex, substance (or lack of substance) dictate how we operate, and within those daily complications, we find The Adderall Diaries. Chest deep into an addiction to the title pill, Stephen Elliott struggles to write and struggles to maintain a fulfilling relationship.
His focus changes when the computer programmer Hans Reiser stands trial for the murder of his estranged wife, Nina. Nina once had an affair with Hans’ best friend, Sean Sturgeon, who has just confessed to eight undocumented murders. Stephen knows of Sean through San Francisco’s S&M scene, though they’ve never met. Are the trial and the confessions related? he wonders. With something new to strive toward, he contacts Sean and begins sitting in on the Reiser court proceedings.
If Sean committed eight murders it’s a huge story, I think. Here is a man willing to wait years to get revenge on the people who stole his childhood. I think of In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song, two of my favorite books, both set around spectacular murders and written by novelists. I know people who have know Sean for more than a decade. I have the inside track. And there’s something else about the case; Nina Reiser’s body was never found.
Even more interesting, however, are Stephen’s reflections on his past, both romantic and familial. He’s written at length about running away from home, about his crazy and abusive father, and about his need for nurturing women who also inflict pain. Often, he thinks of his ex-girlfriend Lisette, whom he once almost married in a Las Vegas wedding chapel. Being with her and living in San Francisco, for a moment, make him feel at ease. The way he sets a scene with her and other people he encounters, I find quite stunning:
I had been sleeping naked on the inside of the spoon. She was so beautiful and she looked at me the way a mother looks at a child and I loved that. I put my clothes on and bicycled home across the city. The landscape of closing bars and well-lit taquerias seemed bright, surreal, and full of smoke.
He’s forever trying to figure out how he came to this point in his life, and his recognition of his long-term depression will feel true — maybe too true — to anyone who has ever experienced it. Despite all the connections he’s made and any success he’s encountered, it’s always there:
My friends think I’m a happy person. And in a way I am. But I’ve been sad a lot too. When I’m sad, I don’t want anyone to know. I try to hide it, even from myself. [...] It’s only recently that I’m realizing I’ve been depressed all my life. I run from it like a fire. I could stand under a thousand spotlights, publish a million books, and it wouldn’t change a thing.
During the trial, Hans Reiser’s erratic behavior and grand declarations remind Stephen of his own father, who was forever reinventing his history. Often, he will leave comments on his Amazon pages and call up reporters, claiming that his son has it all wrong, that only he knows the truth. I’ve seen him post as ‘The Gladiator’ on The Rumpus (the website founded by Stephen Elliott in 2009), and all his screws are certainly loose.
I tell him I keep screen shots of all of them so I won’t think I’m going crazy when they disappear. I wish every action was recorded and we could have a little Google bar to search ourselves, find out what we said last time and in response to what.
In the end, The Adderall Diaries poses as many questions as it answers. It’s the sort of book that takes a few days to really sink in — I enjoyed it while reading, but it took some time for the weight of it all to hit me. That may not be the case for every reader, but it’s a fascinating book that makes me eager to read his other work. When it comes down to it, that’s why anyone writes, isn’t it? We all want to be heard.
Full disclosure: Graywolf Press sent me this book after I requested it (among two others). I thank them for devoting a marketing write-off to my small blog, and I will continue to be fair regarding my reviews.
This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read challenge, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. The challenge ends October 31, 2010.
This review also appeared on Pajiba itself on September 9, 2010.