...or so the tabloid headlines might have read, in the weeks after Sideways (the movie) was released and the public inevitably sought out the book of the film. I was among them in being enchanted by Paul Giamatti's comically depressed and lovably amoral portrayal of Miles, the book's protagonist, and Thomas Haden Church's equally good casting as his equally amoral (yet somewhat more upbeat) best-friend Jack. So after contemplating what kind of wonderful, witty and wine-infused novel could have spawned such a timeless classic, I purchased the above.
"Rex Pickett," the book's dust-jacket warns ominously, "is a screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles. This is his first novel." Alarm bells immediately started to ring; but it could be a masterpiece, I told myself, the first of many - it could be a debut novel like Jonathan Safran Foer's "Everything is Illuminated" or Alex Garland's "The Beach".
Rex Pickett is quite obviously a screenwriter trying to write a novel. His dialogue is authentic but over-simplified, in the way that Hollywood dialogue often is. At times, the conversations sound so real that Pickett must simply have sat in a bar and eavesdropped and written down everything he heard.
The rest of the novel? It consists of thinly-disguised yet helpful stage directions, peppered with a flagrant abuse of adverbs ("I was moving frenetically from bedroom to living room packing for a road trip" - "Paul," says the director, "Move from the bedroom to the living room, as if packing for a road trip, and do it frenetically"); combined with what can only be described as pretentiously-interspersed 'Words of the Day' (highlights include the opening line: "The sun poured bright parallelograms of mote-swirling light through the venetian blinds of my rundown, rent-controlled house in Santa Monica") and topped-off with what are quite obviously the tasting notes from several bottles of wine ("The second Pinot was a single-vineyard from the nearby storied Rochioli property. It had notes of cardamom and exotic berries.")
I wasn't surprised to find out that the screenplay for Sideways was adapted by none other than its original author - having read the novel, I honestly believe that the adaptation process would have required little more than some judicious re-formatting and cutting-down of text.
In spite of the novel's many flaws, Rex Pickett is clearly a good screenwriter. He has researched his subjects to the smallest detail, his dialogue is authentic, and the plot itself is fresh and worthwhile. This 'first novel', however, was quite obviously never intended as such. It was always going to be the 'book of the film', even before the film, because as a book it unfortunately has very little merit. It is a tangle of awkward descriptions, pretentious phrasing and clunky set-pieces which are ascribed no real signficance - all of which leaves as bitter a taste in the mouth of the reader as a bottle of sour, corked wine.