Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Sideways: A Novel

Sideways: A Novel  
by Rex Pickett

Screenwriter Rex Pickett's debut novel, Sideways, reads like the debut novel of a screenwriter who longs to be a novelist. The problem is he lacks the attention to detail that would have turned his episodic tome into at least a mediocre novel.

The book's narrator, Miles Raymond, is a divorced and largely unsuccessful writer who is on the on the precipice of success which, has up until now, evaded him. Yet instead he seems to be standing on the precipice of a literary cliff, unwilling to lean too far over the edge for fear of plunging to his death. He is however, a lover of the grape, a wine connoisseur, who, as it happens, loves wine a little bit too much for his own good.

Miles' ursine best friend, Jack, is a successful actor and womanizer, who is to be married in a week. In fete that would please the most the discriminating literary horticulturalist, Pickett has managed to mate two standard Hollywood film genres (the bachelor party and the road trip) into one hybrid novel. Miles and Jack set off on a week long road-trip-bachelor-party through the California wine country. Along the way they meet two women, Maya, who has taken an interest in Miles and her friend Terra, whom gets Jack's attention.

Where this book falls flat is its mind boggling lack of details... what do we really know about the characters? Not a whole lot. We know that Miles is a writer, but we don't know what he writes or what he as written. We know that he has been divorced for a year, but still has not gotten over his ex-wife, Victoria. We know that Jack is a successful actor, but there is not one mention of a show or movie he was in, and even more of a mystery, if he is such a successful actor, why then does no one recognize him? We know he is going to be married to Barbara in a week. We know that Maya is a waitress and Terra works at a winery but we know precious other details of their lives. We know that every character loves wine, and as such wine is almost another character in the novel, but there is almost no description of the wine making process or what makes one wine different from another. And lastly, for a book that is set in the California wine country there is precious little descriptions of it, its landscape or its typography.

In short, Pickett has succeeded in writing a novel of a screenplay before the screenplay was even written. Do yourself a favor, skip the novel and go right to the movie as this is one of the rare instances where the movie was actually better than the book.

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