"Called a "magnificently crafted story ... brimming with wisdom" by Howard Frank Mosher in The Washington Post Book World, Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 1987, established itself as one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth century. Tracing the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples who move between Vermont and Wisconsin, it is a work of quiet majesty, deep compassion, and powerful insight into the alchemy of friendship and marriage."--Jacket.
The story is told from the perspective of Larry Morgan, who, of the two men, is the more accomplished author, but the less financially stable. The couples meet when Larry and Sid, working together at a Wisconsin university, attend a party with their wives. The wives, both pregnant and due around the same time, are immediately taken with each other. The husbands also have much in common and have great respect for each other. The relationship of the foursome deepens over time and becomes more like family than merely friendly.
Crossing to Safety is honest and human. It unfolds slowly, meandering through reminiscences and meditations on what it means to be a writer, the power of friendship, the depths of love and marriage, and the realization that even your closest friends and loved ones are ultimately unknowable. No one, not even a very close friend, can ever know what truly goes on inside another person’s marriage.
The title of the book comes from the following quote by Robert Frost:
“I could give all to Time except-except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There
And what I would not part with I have kept.”
I’m not a poet and I’m not sure how to analyze that, but I think crossing to safety as stated here refers to what remains of a relationship after it is over, after death.
Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972. Crossing to Safety was Stegner’s final novel before his death in 1993.
I enjoyed Crossing to Safety. It is a quiet novel with no great dramatic action, no affairs between the couples or big plot twists. It is simply an extremely well-written, mature and beautiful tribute to enduring friendship.
Two couples meet, and share their lives. Without getting excessively voyeuristic, Stegner plays out the tragedy of their relationship, as he brings to the fore the weaknesses apparent in all relationships.
This is a novel about relationships, so if you are looking for action scenes, you will be very disappointed. If you want to the inner workings of Friendship and marriage, and don't mind a slower pace, this is a delightfully enlightening novel. This is not Stegner's best (I would put either Angle of Repose or Pretty Little Live Things in that category) but it is head and shoulders above the lot you find in the fiction section in most bookstores.
There are no surprises to this book. There is no betrayal, no modern angst or hedonism. But there is an overwhelming sensitivity, an insight into marriage and how it operates, and a powerful portrayal of friendship. It could only be written by a master craftsman, and it was.
There’s nothing further to say. Highly recommended.
"Our last impression of her as she turned the corner was that smile, flung backward like a handful of flowers."
I'm fortunate to have experienced a friendship similar to this, with a couple my husband and I met when we were in our 20s. C&D were slightly older, financially more stable, and socially connected. They introduced us to new friends, were very generous with their resources, threw a baby shower when our first child was born, and invited us to spend a week at their summer place. Our lives diverged a few years later due to job-related relocations, but we kept in touch and saw one another from time to time. Sadly, C&D's marriage floundered. We tried to stay in contact and met up with C once or twice after their divorce, but it was never the same. And, in hindsight, we can identify certain events and behaviors that may have contributed to their breakup.
In a similar way, there were chinks in Sid & Charity's marriage as well. About midway through the book, I said to myself, "surely this can't be all happiness all the time?" And it was not. Like any couple, there were tensions both big and small. They were not serious enough to threaten either the marriage or their friendship with Larry & Sally, but the younger couple seemed to grow together over the years in ways their friends did not. And yet they idolized Sid & Charity to the end, and often failed to see the ways in which they were stronger than their friends.
I enjoyed this character study and portrait of friendship, and it has made me appreciate even more the friendship I once had.
Highly, highly recommended.
I need to read more Wallace Stegner !
His writing makes you think.
The two days I spent with Wallace Stegner in Crossing to safety were breath of fresh air, a glass of cool water after a long thirst; a magical, enviable reading experience where I didn't want it to end and paradoxically couldn't put it down.
I had no expectations of this book. None whatsoever. It was given to me as a Christmas present, and I'd never heard of it, or of Stegner, so I approached it neutrally, and it proceeded to blow me away.
Stegner describes life in such a way as to make the everyday momentous, in a way that reminds us of the blessings around us, and the complexities in ourselves and our relationships. His writing is glorious, his story is heartbreakingly true. There are few authors with the courage or the intelligence to deal with "everyday" things like long, healthy marriages, "normal" lives and close friendships, but Stegner dares - and thus shows us what we've been missing.
The book takes place partly in Madison, Wisconsin, my hometown, and a place that resides inside my heart; just like this book touches something that resides in all of our hearts.
The Lang's have independent wealth from Sid's family. They help out the penurious Morgan's as his career is just beginning to grow and as Sally's medical expenses confront them. The financial aid is offered without condescension and accepted by the Morgan's without creating a feeling of dependency. As Morgan's successes bear fruit, the financial assistance is repaid. The story follows the intersections of their lives over decades. Charity's patrician uncle assists Larry in gaining a job as an editor in his small publishing firm. This offers him the chance to devote more time to writing and he becomes prolific. Sid Lang failed to achieve tenure at Wisconsin and he and Charity take a hiatus of several years in the family vacation compound in Vermont. Larry, through a contact from his wartime experience in the War Department, finagles a faculty position for Larry at Dartmouth, where he finally achieves tenure if not recognition as a scholar or writer. The families spend a year together in Italy where they explore the deep channels of art and culture. Larry has received a Guggenheim fellowship and Sid is on sabbatical from Dartmouth.
The story begins and concludes with the Morgan's visit to the Vermont compound where Charity is dying of cancer. Her dying experience, like her life over the years, is orchestrated by her iron determination that it will played out in the way she sees necessary for the good of others. She even goes to the point of compiling a list of women from whom Sid should select for remarriage. The unselfishness of Charity's plan for making her passing easier on others really portrays the zenith of her life long selfishness, that her determination to shape and control other's lives -- people she genuinely loves -- is for their benefit, but as she sees it. Sid is greatly affected by his wife's exclusion of him from sharing in her last days, but he survives and, it is suggested, will go on, probably stronger.
Stegner's portrayal of the two couples, and of the marriages of each, is rich and subtle, with great depth of insight into human relationships. There is nothing artificial nor, certainly, sensational about the events and dynamics of these lifelong relationships. The work surely must be in large part autobiographical, the telling of the experiences of Stegner and his wife and their friends over a period of years. As in Stegner's other works, the writing is magical and the insights gentle but wonderfully profound.
This lovely, gentle story about friendship, personality, marriage and career aspiration is about the goodness and its normalcy as part of our humanity. It works because Wallace Stegner is just such a beautiful writer. I wish I knew him, and his characters.
I am starting on another Wallace Stegner book tonight!