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The Adderall Diaries A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder

Stephen Elliott

Graywolf Press



192 Pages



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In this groundbreaking memoir Stephen Elliott tells two stories that initially seem to have little to do with each other: the first is a gripping account of a notorious San Francisco murder trial, and the second is an electric exploration of the self. As he seamlessly weaves them together, Elliott raises provocative questions about the reliability of memory and the legacy of violence, about the cost of creative work and about the meaning of decency. Raw, unflinching, and riveting, it is an unforgettable portrait of a man and a country ill at ease.


Praise for The Adderall Diaries

"Elliott ruthlessly flays the truth past the point of tears, to heights of consciousness achievable only through the masochistic act of writing. Elliott may be writing under the influence, but it's the influence of genius."—Vanity Fair
"The Adderall Diaries should be a lurid work. Among its unsettling elements are the trial of a computer programmer suspected of murdering his Russian wife and a confession by the programmer's best friend that he killed several people. The author's father claimed to have shot a man—something Elliott couldn't corroborate or disprove. The memoir also covers memories of a wretched childhood, drug use and Elliott's addiction to masochistic sex. Yet this is no potboiler, but a serious literary work designed to make you see the world as you've never quite seen it before. The intensity of Elliott's often beautiful prose evokes the effects of Adderall, the attention deficit medication. Yet the book shows a concern for order: Each chapter begins with a summary of what's to follow, reminiscent of the headings in Victorian novels, and there are even several footnotes. Nonetheless, beneath these devices throbs an all-pervasive sense of the elusiveness of truth. Memories deceive, and almost everyone in this book—including the author—is a fantasist."—Juliet Wittman, The Washington Post
"In a time where memoir writers are scrutinized for their authenticity and truthfulness (or lack thereof), Elliott admits that The Adderall Diaries is true enough—at least as true as he remembers it. True enough, anyway, to provide for an intriguing, entertaining read."—Kevin Allen, The Chicago Sun-Times
"Stephen Elliott's superb, sprawling meta-memoir might be just what the genre needs to salvage it from the legacy of James Frey."—Time Out New York
"If you're the type of reader who always wants to know what to expect, Stephen Elliott isn't your guy. But if you can take your literary sharp turns without hitting the brakes—or knowing exactly where you'll end up—you won't find a more provocative, masterful, thrilling ride than this."—Meredith Maran, San Francisco Chronicle
"Nakedly manipulative and all but impossible to resist . . . [The first sentence] sucked me in twice, because the moment I revisited The Adderall Diaries (intending only to select quotes for this review) I immediately started reading the book again."—The Boston Globe
"Brilliant, memorable prose . . . an unforgettable read."—The Forword
"It's difficult to sum up Stephen Elliott's new memoir, The Adderall Diaries. In part, this is because the book takes on so much -- it is by turns a coming-of-age story about Elliott's troubled childhood, an exploration of the author's complicated relationship with his father (who may or may not have been a murderer), an addiction story, and a true-crime account of the murder of a woman named Nina Reiser. It's got drugs, violence, suicide, sadomasochistic sex, and a cast of characters so skewed that some of them would be implausible if they weren't real people. Complicating things further, the book isn't really about any of these things. It's about itself. Or, rather, it's about Elliott's struggle to use the raw material of Reiser's murder to get at his own personal demons. It's easy to imagine the whole project spiraling into a self-indulgent postmodern mess. And if the execution had been anything less than brilliant, that probably would have happened. But it didn't. Instead, Elliott has written a harrowing, honest, and—yes—brilliant memoir . . . More than any other genre, memoir allows a writer to explore the way people self-mythologize. The way they 'arrange (their) experience to highlight . . . successes and excuse . . . failures.' Elliott, his father, Sean, and Hans all delude themselves one way or another. The Adderall Diaries brings this into a stark relief without imposing a single, absolute truth on everything. Elliott insists, 'To write about oneself honestly one has to admit a certain inconsistency and randomness that would never be tolerated in even the best of novels.' He manages to capture that inconsistency and randomness without ever losing focus. It's a remarkable achievement. While some may shy away from its gritty subject matter, the book is never salacious or pornographic. Instead it feels lived-in and sincere, the way only the very best memoirs can."—Guy Cunningham, Bookslut
"If you followed the 2008 trial of Hans Reiser, the Oakland software guru who murdered his Russian wife, you might have been struck by Reiser’s sense of victimhood—he really seemed to believe that he was the one who’d been wronged. San Francisco writer Stephen Elliott gets into Reiser’s head in this fearless memoir/true-crime hybrid, but it’s only partly about the homicidal programmer. Elliott is most interested in the stories we construct to govern our lives—' how we order and interpret what we believe to be true,' as he puts it—and what happens when those stories break down, as Reiser’s nerdy alpha-dog self-image did when his wife left him, with disastrous consequences. Elliott examines his own life in sharp vignettes that ping from Chicago group homes to San Fernando Valley porn shoots to dot-com-era San Francisco. He scours his troubled past—drugs, homelessness, a horrific family life—for clues to his calmer but still troubled present, which includes bouts of depression, Adderall addiction, and a toxic relationship with his abusive father, who may or may not have killed someone himself. People are mysteries, though, and Elliott (thankfully) doesn’t offer up the certainties of most true-crime lit, even to explain his own actions. 'How little we know about ourselves,' he writes, but he deserves kudos for this skillful attempt at making sense of his own history. (A)"—Chris Smith, San Francisco magazine
"You don't just read The Adderall Diaries; you fall right into them. You read as if you are a few words behind the writer, trying to catch up, to find out what happens, to yell at him that he's doing a great job. And he is. It's a brilliant book."—Roddy Doyle
"The Adderall Diaries is a startling and original concoction, an irresistible melding of reportage and memoir and reconstruction. This is Stephen Elliott's best book, perfectly suited to his gifts as a seeker, as a storyteller, as a poet of wounds, unwelcome and otherwise."—Sam Lipsyte
"The Adderall Diaries is phenomenal. With jittery finesse and a reformed tweaker's eye for detail, Stephen Elliott captures the terrifying, hilarious, heart-strangling reality of a life whose scorched-earth physical and psycho-emotional dimensions no one could have invented—they absolutely had to be lived. By all rights, the author should either be dead or chewing his fingers in a bus station. Instead, he may well have written the memoir of an entire generation."—Jerry Stahl
"I felt like a voyeur reading Stephen Elliott's memoir—what is shocking and unbearable to most of us is commonplace to him. Although a murder trial provides the structure for this book, it is really about the strangeness of life, about things that don't make sense and never will, about lessons that don't get learned, and ultimately about what we can and can't know about ourselves and others. Reading The Adderall Diaries is like taking a step toward the edge of a cliff so you can peer down and imagine what it might be like to slip and fall. Normally we shudder and step back. Stephen Elliott jumps, and his harrowing, riveting memoir convinces you to follow him vicariously."—Amy Tan
"The Adderall Diaries begins like the ocean, seemingly able to take in everything—prize fights to Paris Hilton—until the ocean forms into a river, making its way through unmapped territories—a murder, an absent father—and finally this river is distilled into one precious teardrop. Stephen Elliott is one of those 'people who keep searching when everything is dark'—I don't know a more hauntingly fearless writer, and this is an immediate, visceral, and ultimately beautiful book."—Nick Flynn
"A refined, beautiful work of art . . . deserves a place on the shelf next to such classics of uninhibited American introspection as On the Road and A Fan's Notes."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

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
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  • Stephen Elliott

  • 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
  • Stephen Elliott