15 January 2011

Review: Sideways

So Sideways was one of the books I had on my Christmas list this year. I'd seen the movie and wanted to find out if the book compared well. And honestly, I can't remember the last time I was so conflicted by a book. Rex Pickett's writing is terrible, but the story was awfully compelling. I gave it three stars on Goodreads, but I could have easily gone up or down one star depending on what I was really rating.

Let's start off with the bad. This here is the first line of the novel:

The sun poured bright parallelograms of mote-swirling light through the venetian blinds of my rundown, rent-controlled house in Santa Monica. 

How many superfluous adjectives can you spot? Ok, whatever. Maybe he just really wants to set the scene. Well, here's how chapter two begins:

The morning dawned bright blue, sunlight slanting harshly through my mother's diaphanous drapery, rousing me early.

Alright, one overly adjective-ized description of sun through blinds is OK, I suppose. Two chapters in a row? Not cool. It's just too memorable of a thing to go back to. Using exceptionally descriptive phrases is great, but you can't overdo it. I remember, while writing my thesis, there were a few words my advisor told me I was using too often. It generally went like this, "That's a great word, but using it more than a few times in a paper gets repetitive." And she was right! Good words stick in the reader's mind, so you have to be very careful in their use. But perhaps this was just a lapse. Nope. Chapter four opens with:

Sunlight broke in colored prisms as if shafting through stained glass windows.

ARGH! Stop it with how the morning sun appeared, already! Throughout Sideways, Pickett's writing is heavy-handed in the extreme. Maybe it comes from his background as a screenwriter, where the details can really help a director. But the style doesn't work in a novel. That's not to say the book is all bad though. Despite the writing, I found myself breezing through the book, eager to see what happens to Miles and his soon-to-be-married buddy Jack. Their floundering and burgeoning affairs with Maya and Terra, respectively, were fascinating. Miles being sucked into a crippling well of depression, and Jack nearly throwing away his impending nuptials.

It's hardly the best book ever, but you could certainly do worse. If nothing else, Sideways will give you quite the thirst for wine. The backdrop for the entire story is a wine-tasting trip that Miles and Jack are taking in the Santa Ynez Valley. The descriptions of wine aren't always amazing, but they did have me always wanting to grab a glass. This was a bit of a problem, since I read this book almost exclusively before going to bed each night.

I doubt anyone would regret reading Sideways, but it's not a book you'll need to rush out and get. If you see it in your library or somewhere cheap, grab it. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother.

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