Jan's Reviews > The Adderall Diaries

The Adderall Diaries by Stephen Elliott
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's review
Dec 16, 2009

really liked it
Read in December, 2009

Full disclosure: before I read the book, I attended a seminar presented by the author on the subject of his book, and memoir writing in general. He placed a heavy emphasis on honesty, examining his own writing as a process in which he comes to terms with himself and the people around him. What is interesting is that most of the work Stephen Elliott has written has been semi-autobiographical, but he has waited to write proper memoirs until now. Though I haven't read his fiction yet, my best guess is that this is a story that bristles with the ambiguity of real life, and asks why the specific people Elliott has known do the things they do.

"The Adderall Diaries" comprise a memoir and the author's real time account of a murder trial with which he became fascinated, partly through his acquaintance with a man named Sean Sturgeon, who felt compelled to confess to the murder and seven and a half other ones. Meant to break through writer's block hardly helped by the intensifying grip of Adderall, this is an account that flows at the speed of the author's own realizations. As such, it's hard to say that the narrative is carefully constructed... though edited down into spare, impactful prose, "diaries" is the right word, but there's a lot more going on here than just snorting Adderall, or masochism, or even a murder trial. On the other hand, it's refreshing, because this isn't like a political memoir, where every step in life is either ignored or placed into a neat continuity that leads into the current reality.

More than anything, though, the book is about Stephen Elliott's relationship with his father, trying to find a kernel of understanding for the tough braggart who seemed so ready to abandon him to the foster system as a teen. Was he really capable of killing a man, as he seems to imply at the beginning of the book? Probably not, but for Elliott to understand it, he had to look into the lives of a kind of man who really did, and the other kind of man who would falsely confess to it.

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