The subtitle of The Adderall Diaries (Graywolf Press) claims it's a memoir about "moods, masochism and murder." But alliteration aside, author Stephen Elliot insists the message of his new book is far simpler: truth.
It's truth that emerges through a fractured relationship with Elliot's father, a year of teen-age vagrancy, a tabloid-friendly murder trial, and empty sex with women who seem genetically engineered to be characters in a Chuck Palahniuk novel.
"It's not about murder, but about identity and truth and having some 'self' in the world," says Elliot, 37, by phone from his San Francisco home. "I thought through a lot of those issues and I realized that's really what the book is about."
The author of the novel Happy Baby and short-story collection My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up reads in Pittsburgh on Mon., Nov. 23.
The memoir finds depressive, Adderall-addled Elliot in the throes of writer's block until successful computer-programmer Hans Reiser stands trial for the murder of his Russian mail-order bride. Meanwhile, Sean Sturgeon, best friend of the accused and former lover of the victim, has ties to Elliot in the San Francisco S&M scene, and has just confessed to eight murders that may or may not have happened. Also, a childhood friend blows his head off, and the author reflects on both the pain his father inflicted upon him as a child and his own addiction to painful sex.
With short, choppy sentences, pop-culture saturation and constant jumping among disparate topics -- Paris Hilton, Israel, Silicon Valley -- the book is a diary for the ADD generation. The memoir appears to be a (heavily edited) stream-of-consciousness reflection on Elliot's life, from a lonely childhood spent stealing money from his couch-ridden mother through his post-graduate years as a heroin-addicted stripper and his current situation as a jilted writer.
Subject matter notwithstanding, The Washington Post called Adderall Diaries "a serious literary work designed to make you see the world as you've never quite seen it before" and praised its "often beautiful language." Vanity Fair hailed its "genius."
The book tour that brings Elliot to ModernFormations Gallery is, likewise, unconventional.
While promoting the book, Elliot sent copies to anyone who asked, stipulating only that the recipient forward it to someone else. The grassroots campaign morphed into a tour, and fans signed up to host the author at their homes for a night, during which he reads passages and holds a discussion with whomever the host has invited.
"The people that are there are not my fans, have probably never heard of me. They are a reflection of the host," Elliot says.
His string of sudden bed-and-breakfasts has included the Las Vegas lair of a painter who depicts sex workers, where the crowd was a mix of artists and hookers. In Nebraska, Elliot passed time with twentysomething rockers. Here, he'll cohabitate with three Pitt seniors in Oakland's student ghetto.
"I feel like the person in this book is really messed up and I'm surprised they're letting me stay in their houses," Elliot says.
Stephen Elliot reads 8:30 p.m. Mon., Nov. 23. (with Kristofer Collins and Savannah Guz). ModernFormations Gallery, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. $4. 412-362-0274 or modernformations.com.