Anyway, look, the story of Vertical--originally titled, more appropriately, Shambolic--is this: It's seven years later, Jack is depressed and divorced, Miles published a book called Shameless that is essentially Sideways--continuing on Pickett's roman à clef storytelling style--which became a major motion picture, and now he's getting laid constantly and is rolling in money. Miles' mother, meanwhile, has had a stroke and wants to go live in Wisconsin with her sister. Since Miles can't fly (that pesky beard!), he has Jack join him and his mom and her caretaker on a road trip to several wineries and parties while en route to Wisconsin. Hilarity and character depth are promised to ensue but never does. You know, come to think of it, Vertical is really your neglectful parent who always promised you something but never delivered.
Remember all those wonderfully hysterical moments in Sideways? Like when Miles in a fit of depression heaves a spit bucket over his head and chugs it like me on a Friday night? Or all those mean spirited comments on Merlot? Or all the accidents Jack got into, and all those funny one-liners? Well, they're here in Vertical too. I don't mean funny moments. I mean those exact moments from Sideways. They're repeatedly recounted to us in lieu of anything new (though, I admittedly laughed at Jack's priapism).
Pickett's main attempt at striking at something familiar but new is the new status quo of Miles and Jack: now it's Miles who is on top of the world, and Jack who is swimming in shit. It's sensible in a base kind of way, but at the same time it isn't what we'd expect exactly from these characters and seems somewhat forced. Miles works best when he's depressed, the conduit of readers feelings from reality to the story, and Jack as the free-wheeling happy best friend who despite all his flaws manages to end up on his feet. Pickett tries to have the best of both worlds: Miles is successful but still lonely, but we no longer feel like we can identify with him. Same goes for Jack. They just seem like pathetic old men.
The money Miles made and the literary/wine celebrity he became over Shameless allowed him to take on dozens of lovers, and treated as a demi-god among winos, gasbags, and restaurateurs. He's throwing around money like it's nothing, and offers Jack money to help him ferry his mother to Wisconsin, and that's a bit of a problem for me. Not only does Miles hang the payment over Jack's head repeatedly, but Jack actually required bribery to help a friend out. This is the first of many mistakes Pickett made in updating the Miles/Jack friendship. We'll get to the biggest one later.
Not only does Miles have money, he needs to detail his NEW iPhone to us, his RARE bottles of Pinot, how great every fresh PUSSY feels (Pickett over indulges his use of caps and his use of asides via dashes repeatedly over the course of this four hundred page character assassination) to the point of satire; Miles' attention to detail here rivals the vacuous nature of Patrick Bateman's existence. The only problem is that Ellis was being funny, Pickett was playing straight. Later on in Vertical, Maya makes a cameo. It's largely eye-rolling ("I want to hate-fuck you so badly") but at one point she becomes an almost meta character, taking on the viewpoint of the audience: "You know, Miles, I liked you so much better when you were a pathetic, pathological lying loser who couldn't get his book published and couldn't get laid." Amen, dear lady.
The typical response to Vertical.
Speaking of sex, remember how I said Sideways makes you think it's a light little story in the way of Peter Mayle, with his attractive fornicating characters, but there was real depth to it? Gone now. Miles has threesomes, women throw themselves at him at bacchanals that rival that of Caligula's Imperial Bordello. The first sex scene is what opens chapter two, taking place the morning after the threesome he had the night before (he's been having a few of these, you see), and Miles is woken up from his hang over to the amorous intentions of girls half his age (this is only hot if you're the middle aged guy caught in the middle; reading it is just creepy; finding out they're engaged is just twatty). Instead of exploring the finer points of friendship and identifying flaws in the self, Pickett is using Miles to explore his fantasies (or brag). Miles and Jack are involved in many sex scenes, and Pickett seems to be relying heavily on them--he does write them well even if I was fairly disgusted by Miles' affection for women with hairy armpits--but he uses it as a crutch, and these scenes eventually become predictable and dull, and at the expense of adding any real depth to the characters or complexity to the plot.
Moreover, since Pickett decided to self-publish this opus, it's up to him, Jess Taylor and Todd Doty to edit this trivial crap. And in all of this, no one took issue with the constant, uninteresting, unfunny and distracting asides, the overuse of exclamation points and caps, no one ever noticed the typos and spacing errors, and, worst of all, no one noticed the inaccuracy in chapter 2, which is only fourteen pages into the fucking book. Allow me to demonstrate:
As I blinked my surroundings into focus I vaguely recognized the brunette sommelier-in-training from the night before. What a pretty young girl like her was doing lying next to me I had trouble imagining.
I felt a stirring from my port side. What's this!? A strawberry blonde had risen from the tangle of pillows and sheets. She looked like some model materializing mermaidlike from an infinity pool in a slick perfume commercial peddling happiness and youthful, hard-bodied romance.
"Mornin' Miles," she cooed.
She started to kiss me. Then she snaked hand down into my nether regions and attempted to restore me to life. I didn't know if this 45-year-old wreck of a body could take it anymore. I had bitten off half a Viagra to counteract the effect of over-imbibition, and it now had me turbo-charged as if someone had dropped a Rolls Royce engine into a VW chassis. While the blonde lightly snored and the brunette stroked me I came to the felicitous realization that these were the spoils of the life of a now celebrated author.
1) That should be "Then she snaked [her] hand down".
2) It seems that from the first paragraph to the last, the brunette woke up and the blonde fell asleep. I'd call the continuity police, but I'm afraid to wake the blonde. Or is it the brunette?
Pickett manufactures conflict and attempts to ground the story by adding Miles' ailing mother and exploring their strained and unfamiliar relationship. I get what he was trying to go for, trying to add on a new dynamic, but I found myself mostly bored throughout most of their interactions. Pickett tries to make her three dimensional, but only reverts to what he's done throughout the rest of the novel--he gave her a bit of a slutty past, and he added on clichés about how she's just a reflection of her era. By the end of the novel, Miles is miraculously--despite legality and common sense issues--able to kidnap his mother from her nursing home, and manage to take her out of her hospital after she had a massive stroke, takes her to a cemetery and suffocates her to end her suffering. Look, I get the point, and I see what Pickett's trying to do; and I'm even willing to admit, yes, sometimes you have to stretch reality a little bit in fiction, but this is beyond ridiculous.
However, the absolute worst thing in Vertical is the treatment of the Miles/Jack friendship. It turns out, despite knowing each other for years, their entire relationship has been founded on partying and borderline alcoholism, and now that Miles is sober, they no longer have anything to say to each other. That not only cheapens a friendship already trivialized throughout the novel, but totally nullifies the events of Sideways. So, thanks, Rex. Really. Well done.
Near the end of Vertical Miles wonders: "Was Shameless"--Sideways--"just a fluky success, my career a one-shot wonder?" Maybe.
Look, I've got two episodes of Lights Out on my DVR that I really want to get to, so I'm going to call this a travesty and let's move on with our lives, shall we?
Vertical: 1 out of 5.
Next time--Film Review: Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.