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The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott
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's review
Jun 09, 09

really liked it
bookshelves: legion-of-vermin
Read in June, 2009

Pay close attention to the title/subtitle. The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder. Well which is it: diary or memoir? The answer is tricky. Elliot doesn't do "or." Everything about him is multiple. It's a diary in the sense that it covers a very specific period of the author's life, but rendered in the style of a memoir where the relevant storylines are fleshed out in a highly disgressive manner. (The frame of the book is time-bound, the story is not.) I guess you could call it a meta-memoir, a memoir that is aware of itself as memoir (at one point Elliot writes about a discussion with an editor interested in acquiring the book), but Elliot's Adderall abuse hangs over the narrative like a cloud that calls any kind of self-awareness into question. That's not a knock on Elliot, that's just how addiction works.

So what is it? Ostensibly, it's about a murder mystery that Elliot covers for a news outlet, but mostly its about the malaise of his days before, during, and after the trial. For all the discussion of his drug use, it's not a recovery memoir and it's not a kink memoir and it's not a memoir of his dysfunctional family (though it wants to be) because he's told that story many times already. He acknowledges that his relationship with his father is the most important relationship he's ever had. This relationship defines who he is as a person, a partner, and a writer. But was this by nature or by design?

It's questions like this one that makes memoir-writing so murky and Elliot takes up different versions of it throughout the book. Who am I? How did I come to feel/not feel this way? Is my sense of self reliable or is it yet another one of the flawed and broken systems that have let me down my whole life? One of Elliot's subjects is a man who confesses to a number of murders he didn't commit, a charge Elliot lays on his father at the beginning of the book and confronts him about at the end. I can't help but wonder if Elliot wants the reader to draw similar conclusions about the author. Is Elliot copping to having made a false confession?

Maybe. If we don't know the answer it's not because Elliot is trying to hide it from us. One suspects that he more than anyone would like to know this about himself. I'm not going to say The Adderall Diaries is honest or brave because I'm not in a position to know these things but it's certainly an arresting book. At times it feels as if Elliot is burning through his material so that afterwards there will be nothing left to say, forcing him to seek out new stories and stop looking for answers in places where they'll never be found.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Katey Your review is better than my review. I should have just copied and pasted. ;o)

message 2: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Thanks, Katey!

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