HTMLGIANT and the RUMPUS love each other; everyone knows that. We also work together often; everyone knows that too. It’s like this office romance everyone is really okay with and maybe even roots for because it’s between two basically likeable freelancers who are each a dozen freelancers, none of whom ever actually go to the office, and if they did it wouldn’t be the same one anyway. Which is another way of saying it is AWESOME. But given that fact, it seems ludicrous to pretend to anything like objectivity or critical distance about Rumpus-editor/steam-engine Stephen Elliott‘s new book, The Adderall Diaries. Therefore, I decided to drop all pretense and just write him a letter that says what I think of his book, which, by the way, is officially available today. (Click through to see his generous offer of free used galleys for would-be readers who make less than $25k/year.)
Okay so what’s The Adderall Diaries (great title, btw) really about? Like if I made a list. Well there’s addiction, for one thing. The main thing, in a way, though for large stretches of the book it’s like the book isn’t really “about” addiction, it’s more like addiction is this baseline level of understanding of the rest of what’s going on in your life. Which actually seems to me like a pretty good way of understanding or describing the experience of addiction itself—not that I’d know. What else? Becoming obsessed with this murder trial, the woman and the Russian weirdo that probably killed her and that other guy whose name I can’t remember who claims he killed all those people because he grew up in a child molester cult, but can’t or won’t prove any of it—no bodies, no cult name, nothing. And then there’s the weird way you sort of map all this shit (about the trial, I mean) onto your own life. All this plus your fucked-up childhood, your writer’s block, your women problems, and your suicidal depression.
So here’s the question: why was this book so much fun? I mean why did I come away from it feeling so, well, good? About you, the book, the world.
I think it has to do with honesty. Honesty is invigorating. This book feels absolutely honest to me, which isn’t the same as “objective” and why should it be? You don’t want my pity. What would you do with it? And you’re not trying to “shock” me, I don’t think, though a lot of what happens or is described in the book is graphic, “dirty,” emotionally bent, violent, or some combination of the above. But if I want to sit around being “shocked” by that, then that’s my own thing, seems to be your book’s take on it. My ability to “handle” what the book is laying down, is not the book’s author’s problem. You are just a person whose seen/done/been put through some things, and you’re including me the reader in the process of your piecing it all together. I love the book’s hectic energy, its weird tone: simultaneously emphatic and almost too laid back.
Okay, but to backtrack a second—not “just” a person who… I mean you’re so smart—the book is really smart—and you’ve got such a sense of what’s happening around you. And yet you’ll be in the middle of some scene and just like zone out into some memory about your dad or an old girlfriend. And it seems like your riff has nothing to do with the book, and honestly maybe it doesn’t, at least at first, but then you’ll navigate through the depths of your own head and back into the world you’re actually in where you’re writing the thing, and at that point it always seems to come together why that particular side trip.
The Adderall Diaries is maybe the most acute rambling I’ve ever encountered. That’s a compliment. It also has something to do with why my only real problem with The Adderall Diaries had to do with the way it was organized. It really didn’t need to be divided into “book one” and “book two,” and the footnotes and the photographs and the chapter headings aren’t doing it any favors either. They all serve to speedbump the energy, gum the works some. I’d like to see The Adderall Diaries re-laid out without divisions of any kind except maybe section breaks. Stephen King does this in Dolores Claiborne, because the whole book—500 pages or whatever—is supposed to be this woman giving a deposition at a police station, and it takes her all night, because in order to explain why she did/didn’t commit two unrelated murders, she has to tell her whole life story. I don’t think King’s book even has a space break. I think it’s more just like, Here we go. I’m not saying you should have done that. But basically anything to re-enforce and/or amplify the “diary”-ness at the level of structure, because it’s so dead-on in the prose. Hell, if I was your editor I’d have even tried to cut the subtitle (“a memoir of moods, masochism and murder”), logic being—again—if it’s a diary, then make it be a diary. On the other hand, if I were your publicist, I’d have slapped your editor in the fucking mouth for telling you to cut something so kickass and on-point and inviting that goes right there on the front of the book where people can see it. So let’s figure the thing about the subtitle is a push.
One of my favorite parts in the book is where you talk about that one woman who you sleep next to, but don’t fuck. How you like to spoon with her and be the little spoon. I liked reading about that. It was a feeling I felt like I’d felt before, and that jolt of recognition made me feel good. Also, it made sense as a moment in or aspect of your life that maybe serves as the necessary counterpoint to the BDSM stuff you’ve written about elsewhere—especially in My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up, which I know was just a sort of thrown-together anthology, but it might still be my favorite of your books. I don’t mean like a balance in the sense of your “body of work”—and of course there’s some rough stuff in this book too—but more like in the sense of you personally: your life. If, that is, I can presume to know anything about “your life” based on having read most of your books, and hanging out with you a handful of times, and emailing back and forth a bunch. Maybe I’m way off. But it feels like I’m not.
Sort of parallel to writing this, I’ve been trying to come up with one of those one-liners that’s perfect for a pull-quote, thinking maybe I’ll make the jacket of the paperback edition. I thought I would find a place to drop it in the letter but I guess I never did, because the language doesn’t match up really, so I’m just going to stick it down here and we’ll see what happens. “Deeply revelatory, frequently brutal (the office job at least as much as the BDSM), and bumpy as a wooden roller coaster, this fidgety, focussed book delivers all the same wallops as its titular drug, without any of the chain-smoking or insomnia.” – Justin Taylor, HTMLGiant.com .
That’s good, right? I also really like the phrase, “expansive, hard-swerving intelligence,” as in yours is, but after messing around with it half the morning I still can’t seem to shoe-horn it in anywhere useful.