jo's Reviews > The Adderall Diaries

The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott
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Jun 06, 12

bookshelves: not-fiction, psychic-pain, memoir
Read from May 31 to June 05, 2012

this book is quite a feat of love and a feat of pain and a feat of endurance. elliott starts off with a bad case of writer's block. then something comes up, a dude who just confessed to having killed more than eight people (eight and a half) and another dude, dude #1's friend, who's been arrested for having killed his ex-wife. elliott thinks these two stories are his ticket out of writer's block.

elliott is also putting into himself ever more generous quantities of adderall, a synthetic amphetamine designed for people with ADHD. some of it he takes in pills, some of it he snorts. quicker that way. this causes him to stay up at night. with his writer's block.

part of the book follows the increasingly bizarre stories of dude #1's and dude #2's murders. the stories are crazy enough, but elliott's recounting makes them all the more lurid. the speed that laces his narrative makes you feel like it must, all of it, have been made up; stuff like this doesn't happen in the real world. but stuff like this does happen in the real world, and there are writers who stay up all night to tell it.

at the same time, elliott is also involved with dude #1 on a personal level. they are both sadomasochists. elliott doesn't link his sadomasochism explicitly to his hair-raising childhood, but the connection is not far from the surface. so stories of elliott's childhood pop up regularly in the narrative. often they are the same stories though details are added. the stories get more and more brutal. elliott has terrible moments in which he doubts his own stories. in other moments, he belittles their seriousness. it was only that one time. i didn't have it as bad as other people. things got okay after a bit.

and you want to reach out, across the pages and the publisher and walls and gates that keep you from stephen elliott and say to him, no, stephen, you had it really shitty my friend, so so shitty.

there are girls. many girls. elliott sleeps with some but not much. he is not into sex. he's into being hurt. being hurt feels good. he doesn't do seriously hard-core S/M (or so he tells us; i don't dare think what seriously hard-core S/M looks like) but he finds tremendous solace in being given pain and then being comforted. at some point in the middle of a beating session one of his girlfriends says she's going to go to the bathroom to wash her hands and elliott seriously freaks out. don't go. she doesn't go.

at the writing of this book stephen elliott is 35-36. the book is about the writing of itself. it's also about the life elliott lives while not writing the book, and the memories, all the torturous hellish memories of loves had and lost, of abandonments and group homes and psychiatric hospitals and violence endured and endured and endured.

stephen elliott's father is a mean abusive unmoored man. by the end of the book, elliott realizes that he loves this man. why he loves him is not explained to us, and rightly so. elliott is savvy about feelings. he does not analyze them much; he presents them as innocently and vulnerably as can be done, though you know that a lot of work goes into this presentation.

to wit. many scenes are pruned to their bare bones and it would be nice if they were pruned less. it would be nice to have more words. the sentences and the words are lovely, but it would nice to have less choppiness. elliott is afraid of saying too much, of failing to see in the book's reviews words like "taut" and "sparse." i wish he hadn't worried so much. it's okay to go on a little longer.

to wit. cities change constantly. often we don't know if we are in san francisco or chicago. the fact that we don't know the city doesn't enrich the narrative. it's okay to say, "then i went to chicago."

elliott rarely sleeps in his bed. it's hard to keep track of where he is staying at any given time. but he has a job, and job assignments, and he is a writer and a journalist. as some point you nail it: he is sharing an apartment. finally. but he doesn't spend much time in it.

the marvel of this book is that it's about writing. it's about writing with a demon riding your back. the demon whips you within an inch of your life and this is where you produce your best writing.

by the end of the book elliott has eased up on the adderall, but we have learned so much about him, we feel it would be nothing, absolutely nothing, to ask him to come and crash on our couch for a night or two. and if he did, it would be nothing, absolutely nothing, to ask him, man, are you okay?
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by corax (new)

corax file under: OMG


Jennifer (aka EM) this might be one of my favourite reviews of yours, and there are many. It actually brought a tear to my eye. Poor Elliott. And lovely, jo, your compassion for him.


message 3: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo thank you jen. there is a heartbreaking scene in the book in which elliott recounts that sylvia plath showed the ms of Ariel to a. alvarez, and a. alvarez certainly saw the terrible despair of the poems but did nothing. then he tells us the (somewhat famous) story of how sylvia died. many believe that she didn't mean to die. she was counting on the fact that the cleaning woman, who was due at 9 am, would go to the downstairs neighbor and get the key. plath would have been saved. but the downstairs neighbor slept RIGHT UNDERNEATH the kitchen in which plath had her head stuck in the over. some of the carbon monoxide seeped through the kitchen floor into his bedroom and he stayed fast asleep through it all. by the time people broke into the house, at 11 am, sylvia was dead.

in this intensely autobiographical, self-referential book this recounting seems to be saying something important. it's not that elliott is shy about talking about HIS OWN desire to kill himself, either. i don't want to be a. alvarez. i think i'll write him a note.


hi john. thank you, i think. haha.


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