Book Review, Wine Literature

Driving While Intoxicated: Rex Pickett's Follow-up to Sideways is one Hell of a (Road) Trip

By Rex Pickett
382 pp. Loose Gravel Press. Softcover, $12.95. Hardcover, $24.95.

Miles Raymond has a recurring headache - and the prescription for what ails him - is copious amounts of wine. Coincidentally, that’s also what’s causing the headaches. It’s said, “The dose makes the poison,” and it’s hard to figure out whether Miles is medicating, or killing himself in Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail.

Vertical is author Rex Pickett’s autobiographical follow-up to his now-infamous wine-centric bromance, Sideways. Set seven years later, his protagonist Miles, is now flying solo, riding a wave of success as a writer with a novel-turned-blockbuster. Life’s ostensibly sweet for this bachelor in his forties: Adoring fans, high-end hotels, one-night stands, and tons of fine wine. But in reality, Miles is self-destructing. His personal handlers can see it, too and they’re just trying to keep him on his feet long enough to keep the money coming in.

Adding to the pressure is his mother, Phyllis: Suffering the effects of a recent stroke, and holed up in a miserable care facility in southern California. She’s been calling him daily, pleading to get her out.  “I don’t feel human anymore.”  Despite the nagging, it’s a sentiment he can relate to.

The only cure for this hangover, it seems, is a reckless leap off of the merry-go-round, and out onto the open road. So what happens when you load four (five, counting the dog) troubled characters into a rental van for ten days? Read on.

The cover of Passion and Pinot reads, “Miles and Jack are back…” and for fans of Sideways, the debauchery is revisited: Plenty of booze, pills, and sex. But almost a decade later, both of these men are in much different places - unwilling bachelors, contemplating life and its meaning - and the recovery time from the hangovers, Viagara-induced erections, and heartaches is much longer. There is a loneliness and longing that glass after glass of the finest wine just won’t quench (not for lack of trying, though).

Passion and Pinot features Illustrations by Michelle Phillips.

Speaking of wine, oenophiles will recognize many of the names and landmarks mentioned in the book, but this time they’re merely woven in as the backdrop for a much deeper story. The wine, as well as the characters Jack, Joy and even Snapper, are an often-needed distraction from the real tension: Miles’ struggle to understand and forgive his mother, a cold and seemingly unrepentant woman who inexplicably walked out on him at a young age. Now weak and childlike from her stroke, he’s forced to get closer to her, often in ways he didn’t want or anticipate (including a hilarious episode where she accidentally, “makes fudge,” enough said).

Vertical: Passion and Pinot on the Oregon Wine Trail is heavy with the lingering pain, guilt and regret that often come along with a major bender. There are moments of humor, mostly awkward, where you find yourself cringing as you laugh. But as the miles press on and Miles sobers up, clarity comes. By the last chapter, you’ll understand why you cringed your way through the first 34, and you may even find yourself feeling a little more sober too.

Vertical is proof that sometimes, in order to put the pieces of your life together, you must first fall apart.

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