Review: Sometimes I Think About It

Personal essays are only as good as the author's voice. In his collection Sometimes I Think About It, Stephen Elliott grounds each entry in an authentic, down-to-earth voice that conveys the pain of being human and moribund.

Elliott is known for his gritty memoir, The Adderall Diaries, which became a film starring James Franco. Like that memoir, these essays, written over the course of 15 years, explore the author's dark side. With spare, matter-of-fact diction, Elliott writes of his abusive father, of living on the streets as a teen, of drug addiction and suicidal ideation. He moves between difficult topics with ease. One way he achieves this is by using apophasis indirectly to approach disturbing incidences. "But this isn't about school (I was in eighth grade). And it's not about my father handcuffing me to a pipe and leaving me there in the basement of his old house," Elliott reveals in "Where I Slept." "All of that is true, but this is just a list of different places I slept."

Elliott has a nonchalant way of weaving dark subjects into greater narratives. His masochistic tendencies and morbid fascination with violent films are woven into sober examinations of his love life. In "Hate to Be Alone," he connects sadomasochism to his childhood trauma--"She liked to hurt people, and I liked to be hurt"--as if restaging that trauma in the bedroom could mitigate its long-lasting effects. Although his personal revelations are often unsettling, Elliott locates a tender vulnerability at the center of his struggles, and from there charts a course toward hope, if not redemption. "The difference between a happy ending and an unhappy ending is simply the place you decide to stop telling your story," he writes in "Sometimes I Think About Suicide."

The second half of the collection is more journalistic in scope as Elliott takes his world-weary voice on assignment, writing about a deadly landslide in Southern California, constant fighting and inhumanity in the Gaza Strip, juvenile criminal justice, and the music of Britney Spears, among other subjects. In these later essays, Elliott's prose becomes more descriptive and less introspective. He showcases his talent for describing chaos and natural disaster. Writing of the landslide in La Conchita, for example, he sets up a pleasant surfing idyll with "sunsets like lipstick on cotton," only to see it quickly devastated: "The mud fills houses, and the houses pop like water balloons."

Sometimes I Think About It is dark, ruminative and piercing. At his best, Elliott depicts how tragedy and pain can actually bring people together. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Shelf Talker: In this far-reaching collection of essays, Stephen Elliott shares the painful experiences of his own life while examining greater struggles in the world.

Powered by: Xtenit