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A Man, a Van, a Plan

Melanie Gideon charts a midlife crisis in The Slippery Year.


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When she found out that her husband had bought a dead man's van over the Internet, Melanie Gideon wanted to give it back. The seller was the bereft mother of the 4X4's original owner, an avid kayaker who, having driven it to some remote shore, "went out in his boat and never returned," Gideon writes in The Slippery Year, her memoir about a midlife crisis experienced in and out of that hulking five-ton Ford that was "built to climb rock gorges and traverse rivers" — which her husband didn't give back, and in which the couple traveled around the American West with their nine-year-old son and the family dog.

Gideon is one of six authors set to mix and mingle during a Saturday, November 21, Book Group Salon and Wine-Tasting at Books Inc. (1460 Fourth St., Berkeley). Also on hand will be Susannah Carson, Meg Waite Clayton, Annie Barrows, Michelle Richmond, and Cara Black.

The Slippery Year began as a "Modern Love" column in the New York Times. As a nod to her beloved Dr. Seuss, Gideon originally titled the essay "Green Eggs and Van." She loved that name, "but apparently the Times did not," she remembers now. "They changed the title to 'A Diesel Engine Woke up My Marriage,' and in doing so revealed to me the real meaning of the essay that I was doing my very best to ignore. '"A Diesel Engine Woke up My Marriage!" What an uninspiring, utterly accurate, and therefore very annoying title,' I sputtered to anybody who would listen. That's when I knew I had a book."

The van entered her life at a time during which she and her friends had adopted the habit of speaking in silly rhymes about their ennui: "Feeling dead. Dead in bed. Too much snore. There's got to be more." Her husband's passion for the van and his general "zest for life (or more to the point, my lack of zest)," she writes, reminded her of how exciting life used to be when they were risk-taking, fun-loving, twentysomething newlyweds. In those days, "we didn't think about what things cost. We thought only about the cost of not doing things."

Writing the book was a learning experience: "I discovered that I could get to the meaty stuff by backing up into it, which is basically my new approach to life. The Slippery Year isn't a typical tell-all memoir mostly because I don't believe in telling it all. It's more of a tell-some memoir by which I mean I traffic in some seemingly benign subject matter like how slowly people shop at Trader Joe's and just how annoying that is, which then brings me around to a more meaningful realization, like we're only allotted a number of perfect minutes where everything is as it should be and the thing I'm most afraid of is that those minutes are running out," muses Gideon, who has also authored two young-adult novels, The Map That Breathed and Pucker. "In writing this book I found out that pretty much everything, from scrambled eggs to overdue library books ... can be squeezed and a deeper truth extracted." 4 p.m., free.


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