This is one of those books that you either love or are irritated by. Its disjointed structure is both its strength and weakness. I loved it, but then I'm partial to memoirs and this story occurs largely in the Bay Area, so there is that connection for me as well. Plus, this author talks about writing on a meta level that few authors ever get into. Plus I had my own crushing experience with writer's block. Plus, hello, I'm a crime fiction author and have a prurient interest in murder, and the Hans Reiser case was front and center news for months. Plus, I'm friends with a couple of Alameda County District Attorneys. I, too, shop at Berkeley Bowl, like Nina Reiser did. So there are a lot of connections here that probably would make me predisposed to like this book, even if it were a mediocre read.
On the surface, this book is about Elliott's crippling writer's block and how a fascination with the murder of Nina Reiser and the people who surrounded her broke that block. The Bay Area is a big place, but it's actually got a small town dynamic to it, and it turns out that at least one key person who the police looked at as a possible suspect (Nina Reiser's ex-boyfriend) was known to Elliott through their mutual participation in the local S&M scene. That's just one of the coincidences that floats in and out of this narrative.
What this book is really about is Elliott coming to terms with his relationship with his father. Elliott's fascination with Hans Reiser and the other people in the ugly interaction between Hans Reiser and his wife is like a knife to old wounds (which if you read the book you will appreciate the choice of words). This is one of those books where you need to go with the flow. The narrative isn't linear, it takes some mental energy to cobble together a coherent sense of his story, but the writing is so spare, honest, and bright that I didn't mind. Some people will mind. There's a fair number of words devoted to his S&M practices, but it's not gratuitous because it's integral to why he deliberately sabotages relationships that are important to him (surely a form of masochism) or cannot seem to accept love unless he has to pay a physical price. Which, yeah, seems pretty much a blueprint for his entire childhood.
One thing that did strike me about this book was that he ended it with an attempt to reconcile with his father (who trashes his son's books on his amazon page). He says at one point, "...I realize that I love him and my relationship with him is the most important relationship in my life." Sadly, I think that's true. It's also the least important relationship in his life.
I liked this book very much.