Stunningly enough, I had never read Rex Pickett’s 2004 novel of “Sideways” until the beginning of this year. I think I avoided it for so long because I was so hopelessly smitten by the film adaptation, I didn’t feel I wanted to cheat on it by reading the book (the movie’s in my Top 5 of all-time). Plus I’m not a real novel guy, per se. I mean, besides Bukowski, Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange”, and Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”, I’ve never been moved to read things that are fake or made up or imaginary, a life choice I might be starting to regret a little. No, it’s always usually been biographies or true crime or Hunter S. Thompson stories for me. Well, after “Sideways”, I am happy to report that is all going to change now. For I endured a truly powerful wave of catharsis reading this great work of wine-soaked fiction…and plan to seek out more. In fact, I’m already half-way through “Vertical”, the SEQUEL to “Sideways”! That’s gonna be a whole OTHER post!
“Sideways” the novel is a total crusher. I don’t necessarily mean that I think it’s a depressing book. In fact, it’s chock full of hearty belly laughs (You won’t believe Miles and Jack and the boar hunter. THAT scene never made it to the movie and should have). But the manner in which I identified with the character of Miles Raymond, a broke writer on a road trip with his cocksure actor buddy, Jack, who’s about to get married…was totally profound for me. In fact, as soon as I closed the flaps upon finishing and set the book down, I sorta sat in stunned silence for about 20-40 minutes…during which time I broke down weeping. I was pummeled that hard by it.
You see – and this would be considered a SPOILER warning – throughout both the book and movie, Miles is waiting to hear if his novel gets purchased by a publishing company called Conundrum. Inevitably, as it is reported to him by his agent, Evelyn, while Miles is up in wine country trying to celebrate Jack’s last days as a bachelor…Conundrum decides to take a pass. Miles is crushed like a grape. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been crushed like a grape. Oh, my life’s endured quite the array of similar conundrums as well. I’ve created projects that came close to selling but something went wrong and they passed. It does NOT feel good, my friend!
But what was so incredible? Miles’s friends didn’t care. They still believed in him. In his talent. And I could deeply relate to that. Because no matter how many times I’ve achieved degrees of success in my life, I have thrice the time been prone to failures and/or rejections. Believe you me, I have grown a very thick skin over the years, as a result. A now-protective coating, if you will. Yet in the end? I only lost the people who chose to not stick it out with me. May they live (and eventually rest) in Peace. Those who truly love me and accept me for all my flaws and remain confident in my gifts? Well, hey, they’re still here at the Koch party. Enjoying the shit out of themselves. As loyal and supportive as ever.
There are so many other ways in which “Sideways” eerily reflects my life. My friend Adam aka The Counselor WAS Jack. At least before he got married. We took many road trips together and shared many of the same hilarious dynamics Jack and Miles do. Adam/Jack as the arrogant, womanizing, I-got-all-the-answers man. And me, Max/Miles, as the heart-sick, neurotic, misanthropic mess of an artist type. I mean, we were transparently opposite in so many ways…yet we are both August Leos who share a great love and passion for women and wine. Today, I believe, with age and maturity, we are as similar as we have ever been. Sometimes, though, I kinda miss getting pissed off at him all the time like Miles does with Jack!
Rex Pickett is an eloquent, edgy, extraordinary writer. A fresh, new hero and inspiration of mine. And clearly his stuff has to be mined from true-life occurrences. I’m just dying to know how much so.
Read “Sideways”. Please. You will take a really wild trip with these two guys. You, too, might even benefit from a good emotional release. Bring along some wine. Plenty of copies available out there.
WINE PAIRING: Most of “Sideways” takes place in Santa Barbara Wine Country. So why don’t we go with the Foxen 2013 Pinot Noir? Something tells me Miles Raymond wouldn’t scoff too disdainfully at that choice.