My opinions as to Sideways the movie are well-documented. It was with some trepidation that I started in upon this original novelization, because the movie had achieved a certain precarious status in my mind. I wanted the book to be a fulfillment of that lofty bar.
It both succeeds and it doesn’t. It borders on ridiculous to judge a book based on its fidelity to its movie adaptation, but after reading Rex Pickett’s book, I must say that I vastly prefer what Alexander Payne did with the story. So many details differ between the two media: in the book, Miles breaks Jack’s nose, not Terra/Stephanie; Maya is much less virtuous; Miles doesn’t have a Richebourg, but rather shares Maya’s Jayer Richebourg, and Jack’s ’82 Latour, &c.
It’s one of those strange situation where the majority of the plot is the same, but there are enough of the small details to seriously affect the overall impression of the piece. One of the things I liked about Payne’s adaptation was that he really cleaned up the characters, removed some of the extraneous (if funny) bits from Pickett’s work that wouldn’t have flown on screen, and even managed to turn the wine into an extended metaphor. Miles and Maya’s porch scene? Didn’t happen in the book; just sex at a spa. The book reads as a bit more frat comedy than romantic dramedy.
But enough about the movie already. There’s only so much you can qualify a book by its counterparts. In terms of the actual writing style, I would have to say that Pickett shows a lot of promise. There were some truly magnificent passages in the book, though the dialogue was a little stilted and awkward at times. If I had to describe Pickett’s rhetorical style succinctly, I would say this: “[Sideways] can be rich and powerful and exalting, but [it] usually seem[s] prosaic to me for some reason.”
Pickett needs to learn to clean up his story a little, and perhaps work a bit on character construction (I know, it’s a horrible thing to say, and had I not seen the movie, I would probably be lauding Pickett for his multidimensional characters), but I think we’ll see great things from Pickett in the future.