Crossing to Safety

by Wallace Stegner

Paperback, 1988

Call number




Penguin Books (1988), Edition: Name inked on Fep, Cover Worn, 342 pages


Classic Literature. Fiction. Literature. Romance. HTML:Introduction by Terry Tempest Williams Afterword by T. H. Watkins   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 a

User reviews

LibraryThing member LisaMM
Crossing to Safety, by the late Wallace Stegner, is an eloquent novel that explores the complicated nature of long term friendship. The Langs (Sid and Charity) and the Morgans (Larry and Sally) meet and embark on a 40 year friendship that is sustained through births, illnesses, job loss, cross
Show More
country moves, career success, envy, generosity, thwarted ambition, and failure.

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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
Often pegged as a Western Writer, Stegner shows he is beyond categorization here. This novel takes place entirely in the Eastern United States.

Two couples meet, and share their lives. Without getting excessively voyeuristic, Stegner plays out the tragedy of their relationship, as he brings to the
Show More
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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member msf59
Of course there are a multitude of novels out there that explore the complexities of friendship but I don't feel many probe as deep and perceptibly as Stegner does here. This story follows two couples over several decades, as they deal with life's highs and unexpected lows. The author's beatific
Show More
prose is a joy to behold and he has created a wonderful character in Charity Lang, who along with the indomitable Olive Kitteridge, are two of my favorite literary creations this year! Here is a lovely description of Charity:
"Our last impression of her as she turned the corner was that smile, flung backward like a handful of flowers."
Show Less
LibraryThing member pdebolt
This book is a gift to everyone who is a friend or has a friend - basically everyone. It is the beautifully-written story of two couples who remain close despite changes in physical location and life-altering situations. Wallace Stegner writes of each couple's unfailing courtesy toward and
Show More
compassion for the other in truly memorabe prose. The reader is able clearly to see each person individually, as part of a couple and as a member of their quartet. I truly hated to see this book end and I already look forward to reading it again and again.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Joycepa
This is a quiet, utterly beautiful book. It is the story of the friendship between two couples--Larry and Sally Morgan and Sid and Charity Lang--as well as the friendships between the individuals, narrated by one of them, Larry. It is also the story of two marriages and the way they played out over
Show More
many years. It is a very American book, and could only have been written by an American.

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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Larry & Sally Morgan have been friends with Sid & Charity Lang for years, ever since their early days on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin during the 1930s. Their friendship has endured through career changes and personal trials. Now, with Charity nearing the end of her life, Larry & Sally
Show More
have made a final visit to the Lang family's summer home. The book moves between time periods to tell the story of this remarkable relationship, beginning with Sid & Charity welcoming the Morgans to Wisconsin and showing generosity, in both material and non-material ways, to help Larry launch his career as an academic and a writer. Through many summers spent with the Langs, the Morgans become as much a part of the family as the siblings, children, aunts, and uncles. They are so close that the Morgans choose to name their daughter Lang.

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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member CarolynSchroeder
This novel was recommended to as a few peoples' "best of all times" in contemporary fiction, so I gave it a try. I did like it, quite a bit. It is a rather simple story of the friendship between two couples (protagonist Larry and Sally; and their friends Sid and Charity), from the '30s through to
Show More
1972. But I felt, almost as importantly, it had a lot to say on the institution of marriage and the foundations of family. I had sort of a difficult time really "liking" Larry and Charity, so at times, this book became a struggle, to care about what happened to them. However, the writing, language, observations are all so good, that was easy to get swept back up in all when I did pick it back up. There is a quiet beauty here, a lot about loving imperfect people and accepting them as they are. The end chapters try to tackle way too much material about life and death, with huge jumps in time/space, but having just lost a dear friend to cancer, much of it felt incredibly real. This book does resonate with you a bit, but overall I found it "good" not "great."
Show Less
LibraryThing member Stodelay
So I read this book in Boise just before moving to Madison to start grad school. I had purchased it at Pioneer books in Provo (I think that's what the place with the millions of books and the tall strange owner who wears sandals with socks) a few years ago and then had never read it. I was at my
Show More
parents' house one day when I decided to go out to their garage and try to find a couple of interesting books to read. I just felt like I should read this book, and I did. I felt like I had been purposefully directed to the book at a specific time in my life when it was most useful to me. It tells the story of a young married man beginning grad school in Madison, Wisconsin and his life-long friendship with another couple that he and his wife met there. Our first day in Madison, the EQ had tons of people arrive to help us move it, and we stayed up late talking with a couple named the Stock's. They were really really good to us the first few days as we were getting settled. A couple of nights later I mentioned to Dave that I had just read Crossing to Safety and they reminded me of that family. He confessed to having read the book a few months before when they were moving to Madison and having the same sensation. So this book, although worthy enough in its own right of five stars, has a special sentimental and deeply personal resonance for me.
Show Less
LibraryThing member asteffmann
Wonderful! A beautifully-written book about the relationships that make our lives worth living, about the people we cannot live without. Wallace Stegner takes a topic that may not sound all that interesting from a distance - the friendship between two couples over the course of 40 some years - and
Show More
without gimmicks or shouting makes it a story you Absolutely. Must.Keep.Reading. The main characters will fascinate you with their strengths and weaknesses, dependencies and generosity.

Highly, highly recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Nancylouu
I wanted to live in this book!
LibraryThing member co_coyote
There are a handful of books I can read over and over again. These are rarely given as Christmas gifts (an odd practice, but one my children find amusing and typical of their father), and when they are, they are quickly purchased again and restored to the place of honor on the shelf beside my bed.
Show More
This is one of those books. I find it almost a perfect book in its humanity and insight into a long-time friendship. My wife and I have similar, somewhat difficult friends, with whom we have shared nearly 35 years of Thanksgiving dinners. It is hard to imagine what our lives would have been like without them. Not so interesting or thought-provoking, certainly, to name just one difference. Anyway, this is one book I would take to a desert island and read over and over again, enjoying it each and every time as if I were reading it for the first time.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Stormrose
8/20 (note: this is me keeping track of how many books I've read, not a grade of any kind)
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
Show More
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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member AdrienneJS
I had been thinking about reading this book for a long time because I had heard a lot of good things about Wallace Stegner and I saw a PBS special on him. I heard that this book was about the friendships between two couples, and I thought that would be interesting. In some ways it wasn't what I
Show More
expected, but in other ways it was. I liked Wallace Stegner's writing style -- he is very descriptive of environments, situations, characters. He makes it very easy to picture these people and their interactions. I also liked how he talked about some of his own ideas through the characters -- for example, his own ideas about writing come through as one of the main characters is writing a book. I didn't like the pretentiousness of some of the characters, they often seemed to be "showing off" knowledge, which some might say would be typical of college professors, but I thought it was a little excessive. In addition, he used some religious imagery that I did not always agree with and some of it seemed inappropriate to me. I did like the fact that it made me think a lot about things, friendship, marriages, encouragement, supportiveness, and so on. There were some aspects of the friendship between the couples and the couples' own relationships that I really enjoyed hearing about, but other parts left me feeling a bit depressed. Still, I am glad I read it.
Show Less
LibraryThing member stacyz
beautiful writing. a very intimate look at marriage and friendship. character tops plot development. story a bit slow at the end, but overall, the writing style makes it worth it.
LibraryThing member Karin7
The writing is superb as far as literary ability goes, but once again, Stegner's attitude toward women spoiled it enough for me that I can't give it more than a 4 (I'd give it less, but don't want to do that just because he had those views) and after this novel I quit reading Stegner.
LibraryThing member stevesmits
A moving story of friendship and a deeply realized portrayal of the inner life of two marriages, this is one of Stegner's finest works. The story unfolds the lives of two couples who meet at the beginning of the husbands' professional lives as newly hired English instructors at the University of
Show More
Wisconsin in 1938. Larry Morgan (the narrator) and his wife Sally have arrived from California as Morgan takes a temporary job in the English department. Sid Lang and his wife Charity have preceded the Morgan's by a year. Their friendship is immediate and the novel follows its path throughout their lives until the early 1970's. Morgan (certainly a fictionalized Stegner) is a highly gifted writer who had hoped to receive a permanent appointment to the Madison faculty. Lang, a poet by preference, but pushed toward scholarly endeavors by his ambitious wife, Charity, has nowhere the talent of Morgan. As young newly wed couples they have an immediate and deep attraction to each other. Morgan has come from an ordinary working class, non-intellectual family and has remarkable natural talent that grows ever richer over the years. Lang comes from a wealthy family from Pittsburgh and weds Charity, the daughter of a renowned Harvard professor and his strong willed wife. Charity, a major focus of the novel, is portrayed as woman obsessed by advancing her husband's academic career. This is a manifestation of her compulsion to organize and direct the lives of those around her. Her husband Sid is a constant disappointment as he does not rise to the level of academic success that she wishes him to attain. While generous, loving and well-intentioned, Charity's domineering behavior creates tension, particulary with Larry, throughout the couples' long friendship. Morgan's wife, Sally, is a sensitive and intelligent woman who contracts polio early in the course of their marriage. She carries her disability with determination, not looking for sympathy or accommodation and Larry remains devoted. Their relationship continues to deepen as time passes, while the Lang's marriage, though sound, is always clouded by her overbearing nature and her implicit disappointment in her husband's failures.

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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member annoutwest
This is such a "people" book. It could be any one of us. Such feeling, such insight.

I need to read more Wallace Stegner !

His writing makes you think.
LibraryThing member sainsborough
I have never set foot in the USA and sometimes struggle to relate to the culture. However, this book, although distinctly American, somehow resonated. With enviable skill, Wallace Stegner deals with the really meaningful experiences most of us will have - family, new beginnings, upheavals, bad
Show More
luck, good luck, illness, competition, conflict etc. The sense of purpose and of a whole new world opening up which comes with university life is also captured in this book, together with the atmosphere and conviviality of parties that typically celebrate that community. I could relate to that, even though I went to university at the bottom of Africa. To us though, Cambridge is in England and Hanover is in Germany! However, I have a friend in Madison, Wisconsin, which helps to provide a link.
Show Less
LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
Second reading. Positive and yet not ... Not a complete abandonment to "there is no meaning" but no definition of that meaning either. Liked the book - thought provoking.
LibraryThing member MiserableLibrarian
The story of two couples, Sally and Larry, and Sid and Charity. Larry and Sid were on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin--Madison, in the 1930s. The novel tells of their lives and friendship, coming from very different backgrounds. It is told from Larry's perspective, looking back through
Show More
the years
Show Less
LibraryThing member co_coyote
The best book about friendships I have ever read. This is one of those books I'd take to a desert island. I don't think I would ever get tired of reading it.
LibraryThing member bertonek
A beautiful, slow book. I expect this would be of interest primarily to people who can relate to the academic lifestyle and its trials.
LibraryThing member SweetOldBob
One of best books I've read in years. Theme: friendship. Two couples meet in Madison at U Wisc, where they teach, during the Great Depression and become lifelong friends, despite strong willed, domineering and meddling matriarch. Also a look at inherited, old money, and earned wealth of the
Show More
intellectual left.
Show Less
LibraryThing member tanisha364
I found the storyline dull and frustrating. The only thing that got me through was the poetic quality of Wallace Stegner's writing. He really is beautiful with words...but I found some his metaphors a bit too long. It often took me out of the story. I knew and felt like I was reading a book. I
Show More
definitely didn't get lost in the story.
Show Less
LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Crossing to Safety is a story you have to stick with in order to understand. For the first 100 pages you might find yourself asking, "what is the point?" because it seems to be about two couples who have a great relationship with one another. It's all about the ups and downs of their friendship
Show More
through the years and Stegner's characters move in and out of prose casually, almost nonchalantly. He makes assumptions that you already know them by name. There are no obvious introductions to anyone. What's more, there is a certain carefree attitude of the first decade of their friendship as well (mid 1930s). The women of the bonded friendship, both pregnant at the same time, enjoy champagne on a picnic. As the story moves along you can't help but be drawn into the loyalty of their friendship; the push and pull of individual need against the fabric of their woven relationship.
Show Less


National Book Critics Circle Award (Finalist — Fiction — 1987)




0140133488 / 9780140133486
Page: 3.1464 seconds