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VINE VOICEon September 10, 2009
Once one has mastered the rules, it becomes possible for a gifted few to transcend them. If you ask accomplished musicians, for example, they will tell you that it takes more than 10,000 hours of technical emersion before their musicianship can truly be considered art. In The Adderall Diaries, author Stephen Elliott shatters the strictures of conventional writing to create a poignant chronicle that remains with the reader long after he or she has finished the work. It is edgy, erratic, and often disheartening, yet absolutely riveting. As the author himself states, "to write about oneself honestly one has to admit a certain inconsistency and randomness that would never be tolerated in even the best of novels."

Events are not presented in chronological order, yet the narrative is understandable and relatively easy enough to navigate nevertheless. While not for everyone, particularly those with tender sensibilities, this book is a remarkable read. Those who peruse its pages will be rewarded by the creativity, insight, and pure art-form that comprise Elliot's writing. The subject matter is incredibly disturbing, yet like Adderall, a Schedule D amphetamine from whence the author's addiction lent the book its name, once you fall into the story it is extraordinarily challenging to break free.

In some ways a real-life version of John O'Brien's heartrending Leaving Las Vegas, Elliot's book was supposed to have been a true-crime drama, yet it morphed into an autobiography along the way. The backdrop is the nearly six month trial of Hans Reiser, a brilliant but curmudgeonly Linux programmer, who was accused of killing his estranged wife Nina. Despite hiring a respected attorney, Hans' narcissistic personality, peculiar behavior, and condescending manner undermine his case before the jury. The proceedings take a bizarre twist when Sean Sturgeon, Nina's former lover and Hans' closest friend, enters the picture. A BDSM (bondage and discipline, sadism masochism) aficionado who traveled in the same twisted circles as Elliot before becoming a born-again Christian, Sean not only confessed to eight (7 ½ really) unrelated murders but also, according to Hans, played a considerable role in Nina's disappearance as well. As the trial began, her body had not been found.

Regarding Sturgeon, the author relates, "I've heard of him digging a knife in his own arm, carving RAGE, or standing naked in the middle of a room while several women strike at him with leather straps, his blood pooling at his feet. But, that was before he became a Christian. Now he goes to church every week, volunteers at the soup kitchen on weekends... I'm sitting across from a man who may be a murderer, but I can't tell." In an extraordinary coincidence, Elliot's own father also confessed to a murder in his memoirs that he may or may not have committed. Unlike fiction, truth really does not always have to make sense.

The truth of Elliot's life is that it has been crammed with heartbreak and misfortune. Tortured by a father who beat and intimidated him, he watched his mother slowly die from multiple sclerosis as a youth, emptying her urine bucket as she lay atrophied upon the couch too weak to care, before running away after she passed on. Shuffling amongst group homes, he lost four close childhood friends to overdose or suicide in six years. Ultimately he found release in drugs and violent sex, working as a stripper, a drug dealer, a professor, and a writer, among other things. While these experiences are nearly as painful to read as they must have been to endure, he has learned to transcend his anguish to write about relationships, love, and loss with brilliant, memorable prose. One sentence alone makes for poignant example, "But I don't know about Mike yet, the taste of gun like a mouthful of coins, his wife, five months pregnant with a second child, stopping in front of the door with no idea what awaits her inside."

Stephen Elliot is the author of seven books, including the critically acclaimed novel Happy Baby. His writing has been featured in mainstream magazines such as Esquire and GQ, and newspapers like the New York Times, as well as unconventional publications such as The Best American Erotica and Best Sex Writing. A guy who intimately understands depression, addiction, and life's bitter challenges, he tackles thorny subjects in interesting, meaningful, and, ultimately, enlightening ways. His newest work, The Adderall Diaries, is an unforgettable read.

Lawrence Kane
Author of [...], among others

Note: originally reviewed in the Sep/Oct '09 issue of ForeWord Magazine
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on October 14, 2014
There are at least three distinctive parts to this exciting and fascinating book: "The Adderall Diaries" authored by Steven Elliot. This is part memoir, a true-crime expose, and literary and medical criticism/essay. The Adderall Diaries will also be featured soon as a major commercial film presentation.

Steven Elliot was from Chicago, where his Cambodian father settled after immigrating, his mother died a premature death from MS (multiple sclerosis), leaving his father a young widower. He soon remarried, and started a new family. Elliot spent most of his teens in a boys home, unwanted/unclaimed, his father appeared in court, mostly to provoke Elliot in rage; refusing to disclose his home address.
Elliot would spend most of his young adult life homeless, keeping his possessions including his snowboard and bicycle in his car. In traveling he noted Nevada 50 as "the loneliest road in America." He had many friends, the lovers he had were usually inappropriate for him. He was attracted to women who hurt/humiliated him, masochism he was well aware of, yet unable to change, powerless to prevent.

Elliot was contacted by his father who wrote negative insulting reviews for his books on Amazon; he also earned extra income writing, journalism, and filing reports for 20/20. Elliot noted Geoff Dyer's book: "Out of Sheer Rage" and how Dyer worked through a major depressive episode studying the writing of D.H. Lawrence. William Styron the author of "Darkness Visible", spent time in mental hospitals, often incoherent by pills and treatment, was cared for by his wife in his later years, meeting her as a brilliant young writer. Elliot also wrote about Sylvia Plath's suicide, and Norman Mailers observational quote: "The private terror of the liberal spirit is invariably suicide and not murder."
The side effects Elliot experienced from increased dosages of Adderall were troublesome: the anxiety, tension, anger, forgetfulness, yet he felt the medication gave him confidence, he was often unable to write without the meds. He referenced Elizabeth Wurtzel, at 40, a beautiful student in law school, writer of "Prozac Nation": who chronicled more memoirs of mental illness and addiction to pills.

Elliot was aware of Nina Reiser's mysterious 2006 disappearance: a mutual friend had been in love with her, and reportedly sending her money. Strangely, his friend confessed to eight murders, all unproven; prompting Elliot to write about this crime. Nina's husband Hans, had met her while on a business trip in Russia, she was a beautiful gynecologist, wishing to practice in the US. Han's was a brilliant computer programmer who assisted in developing the Linux computer operating system. He and Nina married in 1998, and had two children. Han's was found guilty of her first degree murder in April 2008, and led investigators to Nina's body: (for a reduced sentence), buried in a shallow grave, near a public park in Oakland, CA. This story was covered by various true crime media shows.

This was a sensationally well written book, there were no fillers or gaps in the storyline that induced boredom. It was unfortunate the way Elliot's father treated him throughout, unaware of the problems and life long difficulties his son was facing. If Elliot bore ill will or need for revenge against his father, it seemed to be a quick/passing emotion, as he attempted to seek a meaningful connection. Highly recommended!
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on May 11, 2016
I NEVER review books, but I feel like people should be warned: this book is crap. Elliot intended to write a true crime novel and ended up with a barely comprehensible narcissistic rambling, so he slapped "A Memoir" on the cover and called it a day.

If you are looking for an autobiography, a true crime novel, a depiction of life with drug addiction or even just an introduction to S&M, you can find much better. It was hard to finish (and I wouldn't have, except it was for a bookclub).
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on July 17, 2015
i didnt mean to read this book, because Im found it saved on my daughters Kindle.
The author , obviously, has had a tough life. It seem miraculous that he managed to grow to adulthood.

The murder case he is covering is one that I am familiar with. Unfortunately. I was disappointed that the testimony of Nina's little son was not covered . But, I probably missed the point. This book reveals such personal sufffering.
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on October 3, 2009
Stephen Elliott has created a work of art from some dissimilar sources as writer's block, an Adderall problem, the loss of friends back home, the pull of a murder trial where he's tangentially aligned with some of the players involved and, of course, his own issues with love and intimacy and his difficult relationship with his estranged father.

It sounds like a lot of plates to keep spinning and Elliott does it with seeming effortlessness (which is never effortless when you try to write such things). The pace never lags, and the compelling, beautifully written voice never lets you down.

His work has an admirable honesty, lovely, sharp, intelligent prose, and a great ability to bring the reader into the emotional landscape of the text.

I could go on, but the short version is that this is one of the best books I've read in a couple of years and I'd HIGHLY recommend that you read it too. 5 stars.
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on June 30, 2014
I'm trying to find what I did not like about this book and the only thing is that I wish it was longer. Stephen Elliot is someone I feel I know after reading this book. I think this book is a good read for anyone, especially if you have ADHD or take stimulants, it won't give you hope or teach you how to deal with anything. What it will do is allow you to see that there is someone else dealing with exactly what you are, and that is comforting.
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on May 13, 2016
If I was the authors dad I would write horrible things. You will need to read to get the reference.
This was different than what I expected and have insights into a lifestyle that I appreciate never being a part. Well worth the read.
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on November 4, 2015
A ramshackle memoir heaped on top of a thin layer of true crime reporting. The writing is generally good but the story meanders without cohering into anything interesting. I'll forget most of it in a few days.
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on May 15, 2013
Something about the way he writes just flows with the way my brain works or something. It's sometimes tangential and disjointed and ultimately has so little to do with the murder trial he was supposed to be covering. But there's so much raw humanity in his writing. He's a flawed human being and does nothing to convince you otherwise and I love that. It's just so brutally honest and beautifully vulnerable and brimming with life.
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on February 4, 2010
I think at this point I have read all of Stephen Elliott's widely published works of fiction. This was the first piece of non-fiction by him that I've read, but I've always been very aware that the characters in his fiction have at least a bit of himself in them, if not almost all of him. And this felt like the culmination of all of those other books, one in which he dealt very directly with his father and mentioned briefly many of the events in the past that have made him who he is today, and then acknowledged that that is not some sort of concrete version of a person but instead a person becoming and destructing all at once and then dragging themselves out of bed to keep doing it the next day.

Elliott writes like a well executed dream, slipping from one event to the next, connecting them with memories and beautiful ideas. His experiences are not like mine but I connect to them anyway because he presents them in a way that lets the reader know that he is using them for fuel to connect and create, not to hit you over the head with and pull away forever.

And in the end, it is a great amount of humanity and compassion that comes through. In all of the struggling and the crying we see someone incredibly desperate to connect in a meaningful way. It's brave to continually explore that feeling that so many people have but do not have the tools to execute in such a concise and effective way.

I hope this is a midpoint in Elliott's career and that he continues far past what anyone could expect for many years. And I thank him for his generosity.
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