Book: The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir
Author: Stephen Elliott
Type of Book: Memoir, true crime
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: I don’t even know anymore. I finished it months ago and put it in the “Odd – To Be Discussed” pile. It may not be odd but I don’t recommend a normal person with normal interests and a normal constitution read this book, not because it is outre, but because I suspect normal people would have given up within the first few chapters.
Availability: Published by Graywolf Press in 2009, you can get a copy here:
Comments: You know, I’m gonna go ahead and cop to the fact that this is not going to be a favorable discussion of Elliott’s book. But I also want to make it clear that this is not going to be the full-bore assault I think the book likely deserves. You’ve seen what happens when I really loathe a book. But Elliott’s book discussion comes after the mental assault of discussing a mass murderer’s manifesto. I’m pretty sure I would be kindly disposed to even the biggest pile of crap ever to be released in trade paperback after 1500 pages of bigotry and murder blue prints. So just remember my perspective may be favorably skewed even as I skewer the book.
I bought this book because I found it in the True Crime section at BookPeople. The memoir part didn’t alarm me or seem out of place. James St. James‘ Party Monster is a drug memoir and is one of the best true crime novels I have read in years. I think that is what I expected when I picked up this memoir about a man with a drug problem who was writing about what the back cover described as a “notorious San Francisco murder trial” and an “electric exploration of the self.” But the back cover gets it very wrong when it asserts that Elliott “seamlessly weaves them together.” Alas, Elliott is no St. James. The murder trial at times doesn’t even seem like a side story in this book. After reading this novel unless I flip through it again I cannot tell you even the most basic details about the murder. But I can tell you a whole lot about Elliott and, frankly, most of it is devoid of emotional meaning and context.
I don’t intend to demean the power of the addiction or sexual discovery narrative, and I don’t want to demean those who may have found something relevant in Elliott’s narrative. And I fully admit that I may have missed something because I have not read any of Elliott’s other works. I wonder if I would have cared more if I had read his other books. But the fact remains that I did not care much about this book. The narrative was flat and uninvolved. The addiction barely registered as being damaging. The bondage and S&M details were seemingly tossed out with no emotion or attempt to lure the reader into a deeper sense of understanding Elliott. It’s a bizarre condemnation of a memoir to say it was self-absorbed, but that was the problem I had with this book.
How can a memoir be self-absorbed? Well, it’s easy, actually. When someone you find interesting goes on and on about him or herself, your interest trumps the self-absorption. It is subjective, to be sure, but a memoir has to contain content that makes the reader care that they are reading a stranger go on and on about him or herself. Given the proliferation of it, this flat, disengaged writing style must appeal to someone. But I am not that person. ( Which is odd, in a way, because I am fully aware that my book discussions are utterly self-indulgent, written to please myself as much as to entertain and inform.)
The subject matters of this book – addiction, sexual taboos, a murder trial – should all be interesting. But conveyed through Elliott’s numb prose, it is all unexciting. It’s the literary equivalent of tapioca with a dash of tequila. It’s white bread with a dab of mold on it. It’s a boring man telling boring stories to a barely interested audience. I contrast the content of this book with much more taboo writing, like the non-fiction of Peter Sotos, and it becomes clear why Elliott’s writing did not appeal to me. Sotos, in his extremity, forces the reader to think, or to react at the very least. Elliott’s numb tale was like watching a Warhol movie. As I read this book, a quote from Charles Bukowski came to mind often: “Boring damned people. All over the earth.”
And in the course of any sort of discussion I can have about this book, how can I convey how little it interested me? Discussing the plot is hard – Elliott does drugs, has extreme sex, comes to terms with some of feelings about his family and muses about the murder, the discussion of which ostensibly was the focus of this novel. In a way, this is no different than many other memoirs, but when I consider the emotionally numb and at times alienating manner in which Elliott writes, any structure would be lost behind the veil of ennui his words provoke. At times the meta in this book irritated me, but perhaps some will find it delightful. Perhaps some will also report back to me on what it feels like to snort ketamine and take an icepick to their frontal lobes. Perhaps some will find this book so utterly transcendent they will be forced to leave me half-assed, unintelligible comments to show their indie cred. Perhaps some think I should stop typing entirely until I am in a better mood. Perhaps those people are right, but fuck it, I’m sitting here, computer in my lap, so let’s get this over with.
So let me give my examples of why this book was terrible so I can move on to something else.