Of Murder and Memory: Stephen Elliott's The Adderall Diaries

In the latest edition of the Gawker Book Club, we have Stephen Elliott discussing his murder potboiler-cum-memoir The Adderall Diaries with special guest interviewer Gawker special correspondent James Frey. They'll be dropping in comments around 12:30pm. Why not join in?

Stephen, author of the novel Happy Baby, describes his seventh book this way: "The book is about a murder story I was following, that led me to another murder trial, and also about my father's murder confession. That's a lot of murder. But ultimately, all the confessions were false, so in some ways it's really a book about truth and identity and how the lie mixes with the truth like red and yellow paint and it becomes orange, and you can never change it back to red or yellow. At one point this was a true crime book, but it became a memoir, and if I boiled it down to one thing I would say it's a book about writing and being a writer."

To promote it, he launched a program on The Rumpus, the web site he edits, to give away copies to readers with the condition that after a week of reading it, they sign it and pass it along to another reader. Currently, on book tour, he's taken to interviewing some of the people he's been meeting. They're worth a read.

Here's an excerpt from the book:

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. 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 in 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 that stole his childhood. I think of In Cold Blood and The Executioners 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 is my prize possession, an old Peugot I picked up for $150 nine years ago. 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' 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 80s 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 five dollars from another writer, who put his money, inexplicably, on De LaHoya.

"Always bet on youth," I tell him.

It's one in the morning. I don't imagine anything could ever go wrong.

You can find more information on The Adderall Diaries, including how to buy a copy, on Stephen's site.

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