The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder
"It is often easier to confess to a capital crime, so long as its sentences sing and its features rhyme, than to admit you like to fondle-off into a bottle." William H. Gass
The Adderall Diaries, at its most simplistic, concerns a deeply flawed and wounded man writing about a murder trial; Stephen Elliott gives a sober (irony; apologies to Foster Wallace) recount of the Hans Reiser case, pari passu his own painfully complicated childhood/adolescence, appetite for sadomasochism, and daddy issues. Capital crimes and fondle-off's are all confessed here, and the book certainly sings. Adderall itself doesn't figure so strongly as the title would suggest; there are a few paragraphs throughout that reflect on the drug, but mostly it is mentioned offhandedly, as in: got up, took my pill, went to court. It is the quiet fuel on which the book and its writer runs--the title seems more like tribute. Also involved in the story is Sean Sturgeon, connected through slight social tracks (S&M related) to Elliott, and to Hans Reiser as his one friend and the man his wife, Nina, left him for prior to her murder; at one point a suspect in the Reiser case, he confesses to eight unrelated murders instead. This compulsory confession is not unlike Elliott's constantly pitched personal recounts, strangely, and for the spill of the book they oddly mirror each other in ways I am not even sure Elliott is aware of.
However, after reading the book, I have to stand convinced that Elliott knows exactly what is the what; the man is brilliant, but more importantly, he's a tuned writer. I'm a person very curious about structure, flow. I find it maddening and a labyrinthine hazard to my own writing and my reading of others. A good professor in college drilled and fastened into my fibers that the last sentence of every paragraph should directly relate to the first sentence of the next--this way, the focus keeps and your thesis remains intact. Elliott is flawless at this; the jumps, the connections, the beautiful one-liners that punch you into the next paragraph, that next great line, all while keeping synch. He knows juxtaposition; next to next makes their nest. At one point he talks about meeting Nick Ut, the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer famous for a shot of napalm-covered Vietnamese children, outside the prison where Paris served her self-martyred three days. Ut compares a picture he took of a crying Hilton in the back of a squad car to his Prize shot, and explains that he is looking for a happy shot of her on her way out; Elliott deftly situates the conversation between paragraphs recalling Hilton's prison moaning of "it isn't fair" and "it's like being in a cage." It isn't a subtle statement, but it's written that way--all while maintaining narrative order and metaphorical function. I was nothing short of dumbfounded.
And while I immediately recognize and find comfort in his skill, I also must admit that upon digestion, I am still mildly annoyed with Elliott. For a book review, you might be wondering why I'm not detailing more with the plot and substance of the text; there is reason. While he certainly follows Hans Reiser's trial, The Adderall Diaries is not truly concerned with it. It's a mechanism for Elliott's own memoir, which--hail the chutzpah--is far more terrifying than the sadly mundane details of a murder trial where the defendant is clearly firing on the wrong neurons. Hans thinks he is clever and charming, but he is batteries gone shineless against their guarantee. But even for a memoir, this is a masturbatory exercise. This is not his first piece about himself and his problems, but ring no bell of alarm; it works for Sedaris. My issue with this book, in particular, is that while it is beautifully constructed in a way that the juxtaposition of the trial, including Sean's involvement, backdrop perfectly into metaphor for his own struggle for identity, judgment, and peace, I can see the seams. It's just unnecessary. Cui bono, you know? Elliott is an expert on Elliott because he continuously puts himself up for the most honest of consideration and critique, regardless of brutality. He reminds me of the unfortunate who constantly air their dirtiest of laundry for the sole purpose of judgment and, in a roundabout way, feedback and opinion that they can then take as their own. It's a destructive way to self realization, and a strange form of esteem. It's a field day for Heinz Kohut. At one point, Hans tells the court, "I've been the best father I know how," after he is found guilty of murdering the mother of his children. Elliott concedes the line because he feels as though Hans said it just for him; he says this explicitly to a friend. I mean, I get it: it's a memoir dealing with Elliott's tense and damaged relationship with his father. But still, it reeks of absorption.
Maybe that's the point. Elliott says that he writes "to make sense, to communicate, to connect" and that "the search is the meaning." It seems that he recognizes and reconciles his talent with his narcissistic mode of actualization and on that level it works. Rubbed white-boned and red raw as I am with his fixation on himself as a forced priority, lessening the reality and impact of the other people in the book, I appreciate Elliott. It's a strange awareness. Regardless of his intention, here is someone who is not afraid to reveal the nitty gritty, intimate details of his life, and he does it in such a beautiful, faceted poetic way that it deserves experience, salt in hand.