Pinot Noir Grapes Ripening
Pinot Noir Grapes Ripening

Reviewing a book is always somewhat challenging. Two people can read the same book and arrive at vastly different conclusions. If I were schizophrenic (me, myself & I), I would probably have a couple of different views of this book as well.

I finally finished reading all three of the Sideways books. I gave my review of the original Sideways here. As I noted then, it was quite different from the movie. And in a way that speaks to my writer’s soul.

Vertical, the second book, is a much darker work than Sideways. It is a character study about what can happen to a person who achieves sudden wealth and fame. In addition, it shows what can happen to the person who achieves sudden wealth and fame when he’s not quite sure what to do with it and not quite sure what the fuss is about. It’s with this mindset that Miles sets off on what can charitably be called an insane journey.  He decides to attend the INPC (International Pinot Noir Celebration) in the Willamette Valley in Oregon with his wheelchair-bound, stroke-affected mother who wants to escape the assisted-living facility where she lives; his mother’s pot-smoking Filipina aide; his now-divorced buddy, Jack (all surprised people raise a hand!); a Yorkie; and several cases of wine. The goal of this trip is not only to attend the IPNC, but to transport his mother to Wisconsin where she’ll live with her sister. Spoiler alert – not all of them make it to the Wisconsin destination.

I initially viewed the character of Miles as Rex Pickett’s autobiographical alter ego. However, after reading all three of the books, I realized that I was wrong. Rex has an amazing talent for taking an idea and giving it an air of plausibility and authenticity, and although there is an inescapable autobiographical feel to the books, he adds in enough drama to keep it *just* on this side of fiction. His books feel intimately personal and are sometimes uncomfortable to read. They’re kind of like your walking in on someone who’s weeping, but you don’t know what to do or what to say.

Rex Pickett
Rex Pickett

I noted in my review of Sideways that I felt that it wasn’t a story about wine, but a story about human interactions and relationships, and Vertical proves my point.  Yes, wine is a significant player in this story, but the relationships between Miles, his tortured history with his mother, his friendship with Jack, and his personal demons shove wine into the background – it doesn’t even appear much in the latter part of the book except as a subject for contemplation and regret. Except there’s Xanax. But I don’t want to give many spoilers if I can help it!

And, like Sideways, it ends with a “what happens next?” cliffhanging moment.


Rex is an accomplished wordsmith and carefully crafts sentences that lead you (by the nose) from paragraph to beautifully structured paragraph. As I noted before, that is my favorite type of author!  Good writing can be somewhat aphrodisiacal.

I can’t recommend Vertical as a purely wine-focused book, because it isn’t. However, if you are a student of human relationships and thought processes, you will find the interplay of characters fascinating. If you love a well-crafted, beautifully-plotted book, you will enjoy Vertical.  As with all of Rex’s books, you’ll have to bring your brain to the table. And a dictionary wouldn’t hurt, either.

So what about the movie?  It probably won’t happen because of a bunch of needlessly complex contractual, personal, and power issues (read: stupid). I had originally thought that it wouldn’t be made into a movie because of the personal nature of the book, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, Rex supports the idea and has already adapted it for the screen. Frankly, I think that it could be a better movie than Sideways. A trilogy film (Sideways 3 Chile review coming) would be golden, especially since the original movie has turned into such a cult, Rocky Horror Picture Show-esq phenomenon. Let’s hope the nit-picking, contractual, and endless quibbling end, and somebody gets down to the business of making a movie!

The reason I’m reviewing Sideways and Vertical is because I’m building up to Sideways 3 Chile, the last book of the trilogy. More than the other two, this one had me thinking a lot about wine and writing, two of my passions.  It called in some pretty uncomfortable introspection.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Stay tuned…






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