In his newest book, The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism and Murder, The Rumpus's Stephen Elliott does anything but disappoint. While the title suggests 'gothic romp,' The Adderall Diaries is more Montaigne-esque: a thoughtful inquiry into the relationship between our memories and our understanding of our selves (literally the most overwhelming of all concepts). As Elliott writes in his epigraph, "only a fool mistakes memory for fact."
Formally, the book is a mash-up: part autobiography, part treatise, part true crime. Elliott sets up a parallel between his personal history and the story of Bay Area computer programmer Hans Reiser, who in 2007 was charged with the murder of his wife. Sean Sturgeon, a friend of the couple's, subsequently came forward to confess to eight unrelated murders, ostensibly to "beat Hans to the punch."
In his account of Reiser's trial and his own interactions with Sturgeon -- they share a connection based on their predilection for the dungeons of San Francisco -- Elliott has an ideal foil for exploring the subjectivity of memory. The crime story creates a backdrop of confusion, anticipation, helplessness and horror, which is echoed in Elliott's investigation of his own troubled past and, more specifically, in his relationship to his father, who, as we are informed in the opening line of the book, "may have killed a man."
I haven't read any of Stephen Elliott's other books, most of which involve some form of cloaked autobiography, but according to The Adderall Diaries, Elliott's father has been attacking the veracity of his son's writing since he first started publishing -- even posting challenging and negative reviews on public forums such as Amazon. While The Adderall Diaries ends without a concrete resolution for these two, it adds to the book's depth that Elliott, at least, seems to find a kind of peace with his father's point of view.
Somewhere in the middle of The Adderall Diaries, Elliott writes about "archiving systems," or the ways that we, as individuals and societies, order our memories. "We remember events in our lives in specific order and importance relative to our identity." He goes on to stress that when compared with computers, which have the potential to forget -- or remember -- everything, not to mention make identical information available to multiple users, the human brain is not only limited, but seemingly powerless.
The beauty of the The Adderall Diaries lies in its nuanced treatment of this powerlessness, at the heart of which rests not only our understanding of ourselves, but our inability to ever truly know another.