In the spring of 2007, a brilliant computer programmer named Hans Reiser stands accused of murdering his estranged wife, Nina. Despite a mountain of circumstantial evidence against him, he proclaims his innocence. The case takes a twist when Nina's former lover, and Hans's former best friend, Sean Sturgeon, confesses to eight unrelated murders that no one has ever heard of.
At the time of Sturgeon's confession, Stephen Elliott is paralyzed by writer's block, in the thrall of Adderall dependency, and despondent over the state of his romantic life. But he is fascinated by Sturgeon, whose path he has often crossed in San Francisco's underground S&M scene. What kind of person, he wonders, confesses to a murder he likely did not commit? One answer is, perhaps, a man like Elliott's own father.
So begins a riveting journey through a neon landscape of false confessions, self-medication, and torturous sex. Set against the backdrop of a nation at war, in the declining years of the Silicon Valley tech boom and the dawn of Paris Hilton's celebrity, The Adderall Diaries is at once a gripping account of a murder trial and a scorching investigation of the self. Tough, tender, and unflinchingly honest, it is the breakout book by one of the most daring writers of his generation.
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About the Author
Stephen Elliott is the author of seven books including Happy Baby, a finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award and a best book of 2004 in Salon.com, Newsday, Chicago New City, the Journal News, and the Village Voice. In addition to writing fiction, he frequently writes on politics. Elliott's writing has been featured in Esquire, the New York Times, GQ, Best American Non-Required Reading 2005 and 2007, Best American Erotica, and Best Sex Writing 2006. He was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and is a member of the San Francisco Writer's Grotto. He is the editor of The Rumpus.
Read an Excerpt
May; Golden State; Suicidal Thoughts; A Year without Speed; Floyd Mayweather Comes Up Short; "Your Guy Just Confessed to Eight Murders"; Lissette; The Part about Josie
It's May 4, 2007, the morning after the Golden State Warriors won the first round of the NBA playoffs against a Dallas team that was supposed to be one of the best ever to play the game. I'm not thinking about murder confessions.
I'm taking Adderall, a Schedule D amphetamine salt combo, emptying the time-release capsules into glasses of orange juice, trying to break down the casings surrounding the amphetamines to see if I can get all the speed at once. I swirl the juice, press against the beads with the back of a spoon. I take five milligrams at eight, five more at noon. My roommate is gone. He left his door open and his computer sitting on the floor and I shuttle back and forth between his room, where I pass hours playing cards online, and my room, where I stare out the window and struggle to write something and then give up and go back to his room and play some more cards. It's a lonely, pointless existence, but that's what happens.
I head to a party at a small publishing house in the Mission. All the kids are there, eating cake and bean dip and drinking beer. It's 5:00 and they're off work. One girl wears bright red pants that come to her rib cage. She's just back from Germany and says everybody in Europe is wearing these kinds of pants.
I talk with Doug and Brent about the Warriors' run, how they barely even made the play-offs.
"I have the Chicago Bulls DVDs at home," Doug says. "I watch the games of the nineties over and over again. It helps me relax. You know the best player on that team wasn't Michael Jordan? It was Scottie Pippen. Scottie could dunk from the free-throw line at any time. He just elevated, and it was done."
I know what he's talking about. I lived in Chicago all those years. I remember the play-offs against New York, Scottie Pippen flying into Patrick Ewing like a warhead destroying a mountain. Of course it was Jordan, and to a lesser extent Phil Jackson, who enabled Pippen to do what he did. He was never any good after he left the Bulls. He had his payoff, his championship rings, his millions, the rest no one will ever know.
I feel ready to kill myself.
After the party I stop at the café. There's a girl from the writing program there, one of the new fellows. She's young, with bright red cheeks and a mop of healthy brown hair. She says she had been somewhere and heard someone say my name. She says it bitterly.
"I'm famous," I say. "Which is why I have so much money. Women follow me everywhere." But I'm joking. I don't have any money. I've had writer's block for almost two years.
I go home and start drinking. By midnight it's done. I'm asleep on the couch, beneath an eight-panel collage my ex-girlfriend Lissette made for me. She made it while she was still living with her husband in a little house on the other side of the Bay, before our relationship broke apart her marriage. Each panel is two feet high and eighteen inches wide and comprised mostly of fetish models cut from mainstream magazines: women in gas masks, men on operating tables stuck full of hypodermic needles. Glossy pictures glued on black cardboard, peeling at the edges. It's the only decoration I have. The collage brought us back together for a while but in the end it was the unfinished work of a child, an accurate description of us both.
I have two roommates who won't be coming home. We live in a large, cheap apartment in the outer Mission with strange gray carpet and a view of the water reclamation plant on a hill nearby. So instead of going to my room, I fall asleep on the couch and then eventually go downstairs where I toss and dream until morning when I wake up feeling scratchy but fine and I take ten milligrams of Adderall and hope I can do this without doing it again.
My psychiatrist lives just down the street from me. I can walk there. I see her once a month, or once every three months, and she prescribes my pills. The pills make me crazy, I know that, but I don't see the alternative. It's really just speed, no different from the original amphetamine salts Gordon Alles injected in June 1929, and almost identical to the Pervitin used by German paratroopers in World War II as they dropped behind enemy lines in a state the British newspapers described as "heavily drugged, fearless, and berserk." It's the same stuff injected in high doses in the Haight Ashbury that Allen Ginsberg was talking about in 1965 when he said, "Speed is anti-social, paranoid making, it's a drag, bad for your body, bad for your mind."
Without the Adderall I have a hard time following through on a thought. My mind is like a man pacing between the kitchen and the living room, always planning something in one room then leaving as soon as he arrives in the other. Adderall is a compound of four amphetamine salts. The salts, with their diverse half lives, metabolize at different rates, so the amphetamine uptake is smoother and the come down lighter. And I wonder if I'm not still walking back and forth in my head, just faster, so fast it's as if I'm not walking at all.
My psychiatrist is tall and thin and her skin hangs loosely around her face. I like her quite a bit although I've never spent more than fifteen minutes with her. She works from her home and the door to a small waiting room is always open on the side of her house. There are magazines there, in particular ADD Magazine. The magazine is full of tips for organizing your life. There's even an article suggesting that maybe too much organization is not a good thing. Mostly though, it's about children. How to deal with your attention deficit child and the child's teacher, who might be skeptical.
In the writing class I teach, a woman recently turned in an essay about her son who suffers from attention deficit. Her essay was written as a love letter and was completely absent of hate or envy or any of the things that make us human. It was missing everything we try to hide.
"How are you feeling?" my psychiatrist asks.
"Better," I reply.
I had stopped taking the pills for a year, maybe more. Three weeks ago I started taking them again. When I quit taking Adderall I was still dating Lissette. I would go to her house in Berkeley during the day while her husband was gone and wrap myself around her feet while she worked. Or I would visit her at the dungeon where she worked on the weekends as a professional dominatrix. I would sit in the dressing room with the women and we would watch television. Lissette was the most popular and she would be off with clients most of the day. She would leave them in the rooms to undress. When she returned they would be kneeling on the floor, their naked backs facing her. She might walk carefully toward them, sliding the toe of her boot across the carpet. Or she might stand away from them, letting their anticipation build, as she pulled a single-tail from the rack. She loved to be adored and the best clients made her feel happy and complete. The walls were thin and I could hear the paddles landing on a client's back with a thud sometimes followed by a scream. When she was done she might come downstairs and sit on my lap for a while, and then we would go.
I have a memory of Lissette in the dungeon, which was really just a four-bedroom basic Californian with a driveway and a yard in a quiet town north of Berkeley, near the highway. She's standing on the back of a couch, grabbing a toy from the top of a row of lockers. She's wearing panties with lace along the bottom and high heels, and we're all staring at the back of her thighs, amazed.
When I was taking Adderall all I thought about was Lissette and when I stopped taking the Adderall I started thinking about other things. Lissette noticed and we broke up. Then we got back together, then we broke up again. Over the course of last year, after I had stopped, I often felt suicidal. I had time, but I didn't know what to do with it. I was a writer but I had forgotten how to write so I sat with my computer. I sat in coffeeshops or I sat at home or I sat at the Writer's Grotto, an old building near the ballpark where a group of authors share office space. I still had a bunch of pills left and occasionally I would take one, just to know that the writer's block was real. Then I lost all the pills when my bag was stolen at a bar on Twenty-second Street six months ago, and that was the end of that.
If you asked me what happened this past year I'm not sure I could tell you. I could say I moved into this apartment on the edge of the city where I can hear children and dogs in the morning and I despise it. I could say I was with and not with Lissette, getting together and breaking up every couple of months. At one point I called her the love of my life. I could say honestly I started to write a novel every day. I could say I went on tour for six weeks with the Sex Workers Art Show and that a compilation of previously written essays and stories about my predilection for — my addiction to — violent sex was released to silent reviews.
I could say I watched the first three seasons of The Wire on DVD and on Sunday nights I went to a friend's house nearby and ate dinner and watched HBO.
I ran a reading series in the same bar where my bag was stolen. The series was part of a literary organization I founded to raise money for progressive candidates running for Congress in 2006.
I edited an anthology of political erotica.
I could say I did all these things and if it sounds like a lot I can assure you it isn't. I'm not married and I have no children. I have friends but they don't know where I am most of the time. I don't work. I live on money I made before, money that is almost gone.
Last year I made $10,000.
I live in San Francisco. Rents are going up.
I'm teaching a couple of classes to get by. I know I should get a job, but it's hard to do that after a while.
On May 5, 2007, Floyd Mayweather meets Oscar De La Hoya at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. The fight has been hyped for five months. Floyd will make more than $20 million and De La Hoya will make more than $30 million. De La Hoya is heavier and Mayweather faster. Mayweather goes running late at night in Las Vegas, 3:00 AM sprints in the dark. The underlying drama is that Floyd's father had been in jail for drug running. Floyd trained with his uncle instead.
The boxers move quickly inside the ropes, sweat pouring down their backs like a glaze. Mayweather peppers the older De La Hoya, landing a shot in the tenth that snaps De La Hoya's head back like a spring toy. De La Hoya, well past his prime, comes out hard in the final rounds, his shoulders turning as if on rotors, delivering a flurry of jabs into Mayweather's ribs. Mayweather just barely wins the fight and tells anyone who will listen, "This proves I'm the greatest fighter of all time." But it doesn't. Floyd Mayweather was supposed to win big, and he squeaked by. Floyd's father sits ringside, a guest of his son's opponent. The father has long braids and cheeks so sharp it's as if his face was engraved. After the fight the older Mayweather says he thinks De La Hoya should have won.
I know everything there is to know about fathers who root against their sons.
The morning after the fight I get a call from Josh, a staff writer at Wired magazine. He's working on a profile of Hans Reiser, a brilliant computer programmer accused of killing his estranged wife.
I helped Josh track down Hans' former best friend, Sean Sturgeon. Sean and I have several girlfriends in common and I once did a bondage photo shoot in his apartment when he wasn't home. I don't remember ever meeting him but our paths have crossed so many times it almost doesn't make sense. Josh is calling to say he found out something incredible about the case. "Your guy Sean just confessed to eight murders, maybe nine."
"Why maybe nine?"
"He isn't sure if one of the victims was dead."
Josh says Sean's not under arrest and he's refusing to tell the district attorney the names of the people he killed. Sean told Josh that he confessed to the DA because he's a born-again Christian and thought the jury would want to know. It seemed the right thing to do. Or rather, he posed it as a question: "Don't you think the jury would want to know?" But then he said Hans knew about his murders and he was confessing in order to beat Hans to the punch. Maybe he confessed for both reasons. Or maybe he confessed for reasons that had nothing to do with Reiser or the jury. He denied having anything to do with Hans' wife's disappearance. He told Josh, "Give me some sodium pentothal or any truth serum, put a little ecstasy in there and ask me if I killed Nina. I have never been a threat to her."
Sean told the police and the district attorney that his victims had physically and sexually abused him and his sister in the East Bay commune where they were raised. He claimed he hadn't killed anyone since 1996. The commune interests me. I know the places where adults come in contact with unsupervised children. Between fourteen and eighteen I was in five different state-funded childcare facilities, including three group homes, a mental hospital, and a temporary youth shelter that stuffed thirty children into each room. In those places you can never tell who to trust.
When I'm done talking to Josh I feel like I'm waiting for something. The group homes were a long time ago. It's still morning and I put a pot of water on the stove. I call Josh back and ask him for Sean's phone number.
If Sean committed eight murders it's a huge story, I think. Here is a man willing to wait years to get revenge on the people who stole his childhood. I think of In Cold Blood and The Executioner's Song, two of my favorite books, both set around spectacular murders and written by novelists. I know people who have known Sean for more than a decade. I have the inside track. And there's something else about the case; Nina Reiser's body was never found.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I don't know if Sean will talk to me. If he did kill eight people, surely the police would have arrested him by now. And why isn't he a suspect in the disappearance of Nina Reiser?
After calling Sean and leaving a message I bicycle through the city, down Market Street toward the Castro, my right pant leg rolled up so as not to get caught in the chain. My bicycle, an old Peugot I picked up for $150 nine years ago, is my prize possession. I live a spare existence. I haven't owned a car since I first got to this city.
I cut right, past the Gay and Lesbian Center and the Three Dollar Bill Café. Something's tugging on me. I had heard of Nina's murder, but never the full story. I had heard about Sean and how Nina's disappearance crushed him. He took to bed, paralyzed with grief. He was in love with his best friend's wife. It was all just passing information. But eight murders? Revenge killings? Eight murders isn't revenge. Eight murders is a serial killer.
I go to the park to meet a girl I know. Someone who has taken a habit of coming to my readings. She's engaged and lives with her fiancé between the Marina and Russian Hill. I've only seen her once before and she'd explained their relationship. It was simple. He was monogamous and believed in monogamy. She cheated on him and always would.
She arrives wearing a black dress and sandals. Her skin is so pale all I can think of is milk. I don't think of my complicity in her unfaithfulness. I don't want to. I don't love her; she's just someone I know. I wait as she walks across the grass in her sandals. A man stops her and asks if she is willing to be in one of his paintings. She talks with him for a moment, her head turned his way, her body pointing toward me. He doesn't have any paint. He wears dark, heavy clothes, his belongings bound in garbage bags around him.
The sun is brilliant and the colorful houses are brightly lit along the hills. On some days the fog catches on their drainpipes like cotton, but today it's easy to see why people want to live here. Easy to see San Francisco for the gentle paradise it is.
We lie on the grass with my shirt pulled up. I forget all about De La Hoya's fight and Sean Sturgeon's confession. I ask her to pinch my nipple and she does but it isn't enough. I ask her to do it harder and soon there is blood everywhere. There are people nearby but they don't seem to notice. For most of it she keeps her hand over my mouth and I close my eyes and drift away. "It's OK," she says.
That's only half the day. There's a barbecue, and then a reading, and then a party. There's always a party. I dance with a girl. "How do you know Eric?" I ask between songs. "I don't," she says. "My boyfriend knows him." I dance better after that. It's still the weekend, after all. It's still San Francisco. Everything is beautiful. Really. It seems perfect. The DJ looks like Napoleon Dynamite and spins pop from the eighties on vinyl. I'm thirty-five years old. The woman I'm dancing with has curly black hair and moves with steady grace, her silk dress rolling in waves down her arms. I feel loose and fine. I take $5 from another writer, who puts his money, inexplicably, on De La Hoya.
Excerpted from "The Adderall Diaries"
Copyright © 2009 Stephen Elliott.
Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Book 1 Preliminary Motions,
Book 2 The Trial,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fascinating Read From Bestselling Author The author is one of the great writers of our times, and his 12 books have sold millions of copies around the world. In times to come, people will wonder that such a man existed in our age. He has been called, "a combination of Francois Villon, James T. Farrell, Maxim Gorky, Victor Hugo, and Dosteovski--on their best days!" And both the New York Times and an editor at Vanity Fair called his last novel, HAPPY BABY, "...the most beautiful and intelligent book ever written..." The Kirkus review likens him to Jack Kerouac and ON THE ROAD, as seminal images from America's brush with literature and deep thought. His stepmother called him "strong, dependable, and giving" when he was 13, and you can see those qualities in his work, as well as a gift for irony. His great uncle Simon Frug was the last Natonal Jewish Poet of Russia under the Tsar Nicholas, and his mother was born at Wentworth Castle, which was built by the Earl of Strafford. Elliott too was born in England, but he grew up in Chicago. His work is vitally concerned with the unspoken nuances that govern our lives, and he believes that the evidence indicates that we are creatures of compulsion, and that free will is a conceit. "In the end we don't know why people do what they do. It's all mysterious. We don't even know why we ourselves do what we do. In World War II, Polish anti-semites hid Jews in their cellars at the risk of their own lives. There are no explanations. My grandmother used to say 'The heart of another is like a dark forest.' Historians like to ascribe grand plans to everything, but in fact we're just creatures of short-term compulsion. Hitler gets out of bed on a cold morning, steps on a tack and screams 'Dot does it! Invade Poland!' "As Isaac Bashevis Singer put it, 'Of course I believe in free will--I have no choice!'"