Much like his first, Sideways, Rex Pickett’s follow-up novel, Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail, isn’t a wine book, per se, it’s a humorous effort loaded with winery visits, empty Pinot Noir bottles, self-loathing and sloppy sex.
Pickett plays an interesting game with real-life and fiction in this book. In this novel, Miles (the perpetually drunk, Pinot-loving protagonist) is a big celebrity in the wine world based on the publication of his novel Shameless (a stand-in for the real-life novel Sideways). He’s spent the past few years soaking in the fame, getting wined and dined by Pinot producers, and, as he’s always more than willing to tell, getting laid.
The relationship with Maya (the Hitching Post waitress and love interest from Sideways) and fizzled after Miles went back to his L.A. home to relish in newfound fame. His mother has had a stroke and his good buddy Jack is reeling from a broken marriage. The stage is set for a new adventure when Miles agrees to bring his mother to live with her sister in Wisconsin. He decides to rent a handicap-accessible van and take his mother, her dog and Jack to Wisconsin, with a little stop-over in Willamette Valley for the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC), for which Miles is the master of ceremonies.
If you’re looking for a primer on Willamette Valley Pinot, this is not it. Miles and his crew don’t get to Willamette Valley until page 223. And when they arrive for IPNC, there’s no master class in Oregon Pinot. Instead, there’s a hilarious scene where Miles is forced to sit in a dunk booth filled with Two Buck Chuck Merlot.
The dialogue is consistently punchy, funny, and witty. But the stage-setting and basic narration go through dips of boredom and laziness. (“The parking lot was so full it was difficult to find a place to park.” Hmm…You don’t say.)
However, Pickett does have the ability to get this particular reader a bit emotional during the scenes between Miles and his mother. The passages of dialogue between Miles and his mother are like flashes of brilliant sobriety and deep emotion in a novel filled with drunken excess and surface level human interactions.
For me, Sideways was the exception that proved the rule that books are better than movies. I absolutely loved the movie, and when I see it while scrolling channels, I almost always check it out to see which hilarious spat of dialogue is coming up next. But I found the book frustrating. Pickett’s writing struck me as overcompensating, overindulgent and tiring. In Vertical, there is still plenty of bro-down, dick-swinging, “Chicks, man!” kind of stuff, but I feel like Pickett has grown a bit less sophomoric with this sophomore effort.
The book does contain a series of brutal yet hilarious scenes about Jack’s penis, and more than a few of Miles’ kiss-and-tell confessions. There’s pants-pooping, impromptu dental surgery, (a lot of) drunken sex, spit bucket baths, and the like. While crass at times, Pickett’s protagonist maintains an interesting mix of humor, levity, and pathos, which hold the story together and make it a worthwhile read.
While the wine lover will have fun with the shout-outs to certain wines and wineries, this book is aimed at a far wider audience. But I think the wine world is frequently in need of a humor injection, and Picket provides that in this novel.
Now let’s see if Hollywood buys the screenplay, and Maybe Paul Giamatti will be back to play Miles again. I know I’d pay to see it.
Available now from Loose Gravel Press