Alternate Cover Edition ISBN X 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 , 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 The narrator of this novel, Larry Morgan, at one point says to his wife,But if I m going to set the literary world on fire, the only way to do it is to rub one word against the other Not only did Wallace Stegner likely set the literary world on fire with this book, he set me on fire Can you imagine reading an entire book about the long friendship between two couples and being left gasping at the end, longing for The characters in this book primarily Larry and his wife Sally, and their friends Sid and Charity Lang have personalities that are indelibly etched in my heart I know these people not just from the outside but because parts of each one are, or have been parts of me, too at one point or another in my life At the very least, I was definitely them and they were me during the course of reading this book.The places I have never been that are described in this book are places as familiar to me now as they would be had I grown up there The trees, the smells, the weather changes, the variants in the sky I know them all intimately from reading this book.Wallace Stegner does not need plot devices at all to draw his readers in close enough to live in the book I don t know how he does it, but he does with wit, with compassion, with understanding and with care.I definitely want to read of Mr Stegner s writing this year This book was a lovely gift to myself and I plan to repeat the action over the coming months I also highly recommend that everyone gift themselves with at least a couple of Wallace Stegner s novels this year if at all possible. There are some books that seem to have tiny leaks in their spines and covers and pages and release almost unnoticeable misty, smoky particles of their story well not so much their story but the mood that is created by the story out into the real world And when reading these books you find or at least I find I should shift my point of reference to me not you that I am seeing things in my daily routine through a sort of cloud that at first I don t recognize but then suddenly it dawns on me that it s from the book I m reading My dreams are affected, my relationships are affected, my perception of self is affected, and my writing style and speaking style change all because of the fumes from this book seepage And Crossing to Safety has seepage This is a book about a lifestyle that I really can t relate to But yet now I ve been to these well orchestrated family picnics at Battell Pond, the Vermont compound belonging to Charity Lang s family I ve ridden in the back of the Marmon with the coolers full of steaks for the grills And I walked the hundred mile back roads behind the horse named Wizard wondering if there were two stashes of tea in his pack I even went to Florence back when you could just waltz into the Uffizi without standing in hour long lines constantly being approached by brella salesmen I spent time in an iron lung with my dearest friend by my side assuring me that life was worth living even though I wished it was over But most of all what this gaseous cloud of literary filter did for me was to confirm that good and bad make the whole that friends, husbands, children and oh yes don t forget myself all can have insufferable habits, be full of faults, clearly be imperfect but without these bad qualities they would not be the people we love Here s the quote from the book that illustrates this best After spending a lovely day in the Tuscan countryside that ends with rescuing an Italian worker from a horrible accident and transporting him back to his village with a crushed, bleeding hand, Larry asks Sally,When you remember today, what will you remember best, the spring countryside, and the company of friends, or Piero s Christ and that workman with the mangled hand She thought a minute All of it, she said it wouldn t be complete or real if you left out any part of it, would it Go to the head of the class, I said.This is a move to the top of your list book Seen in geological perspective, we are fossils in the making, to be buried and eventually exposed again for the puzzlement of creatures of later eras Welcome to Wally World No, not the one with Chevy Chase and a stiff relation on the car roof, the one that is a place of real literary wonder Wallace Stegner is one of our great national treasures, and Crossing to Safety is a very rich read, a surprising look at the friendship between two couples, four friends Stegner opens with Charity, a wealthy New Englander in the last stages of cancer, bringing the foursome back together for one last hurrah He dusts off this fossil and shows us where it came from And in the process ponders the craft he is using to tell his story How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these Where are the things novelists seize upon and readers expect Where is the high life, the conspicuous waste, the violence, the kinky sex, the death wish Where are the suburban infidelities, the promiscuities, the convulsive divorces, the alcohol, the drugs, the lost weekends Where are the hatreds, the political ambitions, the lust for power Where are speed, noise, ugliness, everything that makes us who we are and makes us recognize ourselves in fiction Stegner is up front about the challenge he has presented himself How does one write an interesting book about friendship I suppose one begins with being able to create real people with words But Stegner might disagree In the book he says you ve got the wrong idea of what writers do They don t understand any than other people They invent only plots they can resolve They ask questions they can answer Those aren t people that you see in books, those are constructs.And yet his characters do seem real and that is why we come to care about them Larry is a young teacher arriving at his first job in Madison Wisconsin He is the hard worker, always writing, articles, stories, a novel, using every spare minute to put words to paper His wife, Sally, had given up her college career to help Larry through his education, and is pregnant when they set up shop in town She and Larry barely scrape by She is probably the least defined of the four, supportive to all, but ultimately the one most in need of the support of her friends She appears early on with canes and leg braces We learn later how she acquired them Sid and Charity are at the very opposite end of the financial spectrum Sid, from Pittsburgh, inherited considerable family wealth He is a dreamer, wanting to write his poetry, ponder the land, of a transcendentalist than anything Charity came from old New England money She is the organizer, the one who must be in charge This unlikely foursome become fast friends almost immediately, finding an Eden of mutual acceptance and admiration The notion of Eden is one that recurs with some frequency From the high porch, the woods pitching down to the lake are than a known and loved place They are a habitat we were once fully adapted to, a sort of Peaceable Kingdom where species such as ours might evolve unchallenged and find their step on the staircase of being Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained arrive towards the end In between, Sid and Charity s first time together at her family retreat in northern Vermont, Battell Pond, is like a stroll through the first garden An aspect of Charity s personality is even referred to, during a multi day hike the foursome take while in Vermont years later, as the serpent in paradise Clearly the Eden of the two pairs friendship is not without its dangers.Although his setting is the Northeast, mostly, instead of his beloved West, Stegner pays close attention to place The hemlocks like this steep shore Like other species, they hang on to their territory much like Charity is grown from her New England soil Larry hankers for his birthplace in the Southwest and winds up there, but Stegner satisfies himself with some description of Wisconsin and much of Battell Pond As the land does in his other tales, this one challenges his characters A long hike, perhaps standing in for a life journey, is fraught with unexpected impediments, an unmapped beaver pond, storm downed trees that force unfortunate detours In Wisconsin, a stormy lake threatens all their lives Order is indeed the dream of man, but chaos, which is only another word for dumb, blind, witless chance, is still the law of nature.But Charity takes it as her mission to prevail over entropy Soon spring would thaw the drifts and reveal the disorder and scarred earth, and she would set to work to transform it into a landscape.We shift between the present and the past, following the friends through the stages of their lives The two men, both teachers, struggle with getting tenure, finding professional fulfillment and success We also get a look into the struggles each couple experiences within their relationships Although all four are offered the stage it is the pairing of Sid and Charity that most lights it up Stegner offers small details that illuminate and portend Here Larry describes an interaction with Charity the kiss I aimed at her cheek barely grazed her She was not much of a kisser She had a way of turning at the last minute and presenting a moving target And what happens at the end of our lives, when this friendship comes to its final chapter Seen in either geological or biological terms, we don t warrant attention as individuals One of us doesn t differ that much from another, each generation repeats its parents, the works we build to outlast us are not much enduring than anthills, and much less so than coral reefs Here everything returns upon itself, repeats and renews itself, and present can hardly be told from past.Stegner shows that there are always shoots ready to seek the light as ancient woods bow with time, but we cross our lives to safety with the memories of our brief time here, the treasures of love and friendship One of those treasures is having read this book. How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these Stegner did it We follow two married couples from their bright eyed 1930s youth to their retirement years There s no razzle dazzle, no shocks or mysteries, no scandals or horrors Their hurts are subtle and familiar.The writing is solid and reflective and downright beautiful.I found the story to be mostly about acceptance Loving people even when you don t like them Finding satisfaction in life even when your plans fall through Not settling, not feeling trapped or resentful, but just learning to be OK with your life and appreciating what you have instead of wasting your life obsessing over what you don t have A curiously ordinary yet elusive concept. A Lost WorldOnce upon a time there was an American Republican President named Eisenhower Ike wasn t a very smart man but he was not an evil man He didn t like the way the world was run, not even in his own country But he remained calm in his politics and civil to his political opponents He set an example People felt safe around other people.At that time there was a place called Vermont It contained a smaller place called the Northeast Kingdom There were no motorways then and this place wasn t on the way to anywhere else So if you were there, you meant to be there It had quiet roads for children to walk along, forested hills that the same children could get lost among, and general stores that these children could count on for shady coolness when they found their way home These smelled of smoke and sweet tobacco.It is of course the smells that are most memorable but the least describable Outside the general store, the repair crew works reeking tar into the cracks of the roadbed The scent of the maples is only noticeable as you enter the stand of spruce, and theirs, only while coming back into the maples The lake water smells of the rotting leaves on the bottom I m sure it s possible to smell the ozone on the mountains if the wind isn t blowing Smell is the quickest sense to accept its environment as normal but also the one that makes the most dramatic effect when re encountered.It was a good time even if not the best of times There was this disease called polio Anyone could catch it, almost anywhere Many did everyone knew someone who knew someone who had it Polio didn t kill everyone it found, but it did a heck of a job killing their nervous system Remember President Roosevelt A bit smarter than Eisenhower but he could only stand up straight with steel braces on his legs He caught polio in Canada, just over the border Summertime wasn t all fun and games Sometimes it was dangerous But it was never unexpected.Of course the good old days for us were the new unpredictable days of the mid twentieth century for most of the country folk roundabout We, especially we children, were a problem We made senseless noise we had no predictable routines we did nothing productive we had no skills useful in the countryside and we spoke out of turn We lacked any hint of Methodist discipline or deference We were therefore dealt with most harshly by the natives with a stern scowl NeverthelessThere it was, there it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship had its home and happiness its headquarters Re visiting that time and place is dangerous, not because it s an idealised past which doesn t measure up to scrutiny, but because it s a forgotten past which suddenly re emerges with the emotional force of death This time is not 60 or 70 years ago it is yesterday And the chasm between yesterday and today is an entire life which has been expended For good or ill, this life has dissipated and dispersed down that hole The chasm demands to be filled with meaning The content doesn t matter that much Tragedy, fulfilment, success, sacrifice, regret are really equivalent rubble But only when the gap is filled can a crossing be made safely.It is always surprising what the best fiction writing raises from the psychic depths Connections to others, and to oneself, abound in the most unlikely places during the most unlikely times. The warm shudders I experienced as I sank into each night with this book on my lap, the stunning imagery of diminished time against an unchanging landscape, and the quiet story of academic couples faced with tragedy, makes me certain that Stegner will be an author I grow with this year This year I made a pact with myself to become familiar with the works of authors I love Now here I am, back to visit Stegner, The Dean of Western Writers, after having admired the program he started at Stanford and after having relished his guidebook, On Teaching and Writing Fiction I read this simple, yet sweeping Great Depression story of love and friendship, of time and discovery, of pleasure and pain, and it sparked something in me that leaves me a bit in awe, a bit speechless, a bit drained I wonder if I have ever felt alive, competent in my mind and at ease with myself and my world, than I feel for a few minutes on the shoulder of that known hill while I watch the sun climb powerfully and confidently and see below me the unchanged village, the lake like a pool of mercury, the varying greens of hayfields and meadows and sugarbush and black spruce words, of all of it lifting and warming as the stretched shadows shorten When they were younger, sometimes the academic couples camped around a hill like this, enjoying the sunset sometimes Larry and Sid sat on a bench like this, just above the hill, and they discussed career disappointments.I hope I will have to say about this book, or I guess I should be clear that I do have to say but I hope I ll have the energy to write those thoughts I just sent off another scholarship recommendation for a former student who I hope will someday conquer scientific research Afterwards, I almost shut off my laptop But I feel as if I owe some form of expression to one of the pioneers of Graduate Art Programs who helped developed budding artists like myself who can only wish she gains an ounce of the creative momentum Larry had in this novel I hope I ll have to say because while reading this, it underscored for me my uniqueness as the other half of an academic couple I don t teach currently, but I have taught a few years of undergraduate courses For the past several years, my husband and I have lived in a few academic communities while he worked in administration and I worked on faculty Not so much unlike Larry and Sally And like Larry, I ve realized the strains that an environment of conformed thought places upon the creative mind, the lack of knowledge about the field, and the necessity of fellowships like Stegner s see my review here And Sally, well she is just so nuanced that all I can say briefly is that she s an indomitable warrior and helpmeet who faces illness with steel.I hoped I would have to say about this encompassing read, but I have the feeling I ve already said enough Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette casesWallace StegnerAs with A Gentleman in Moscow and The Heart s Invisible Furies, the inescapable popularity of this book on Goodreads was the white flash of a rabbit s tail that first caught my eye Then as I dipped into the lavish reviews, it became the godlike voice that boomed at me through thunder clouds Do thyself a favour, mortal, and REEEAD THIS BOOOOK it resounded.So, that s exactly what I did I would just like to add at this stage that a plethora of five star reviews isn t always a reliable indicator of a book s calibre.The story spans several decades and is told by genial culture vulture, Larry Morgan, a writer who marries during the Great Depression a man prepared to suffer for his art so long as he has his wonderful wife, Sally, by his side He remarks that it was beautiful to be young and hard up if you had the right wife.There is a let s get it all out in the open honesty to Stegner s writing His direction though is steered by optimism This is an urbane version of Steinbeck An erudite, glass half full Steinbeck He is highbrow yet humble, scholarly yet folksy And as if his elegant no nonsense prose wasn t enough, he proceeds to tick almost all my literary boxes by gilding it with some wonderful imagery cattle grazing in the distance are described as being tiny as aphids on a leaf Brilliant Back of the net, Stegner In a scene reminiscent of an episode of Frasier, Larry and his wife are beguiled by like minded aesthetes, the Langs, who invite them to their fancy schmantzy dinner party The foursome become lifetime friends and the thrust of the story is as much about them as it is the Morgans.Their very human dynamics will ring many readers bells because this semi autobiographical tale gives us the sense of being allowed to pry into the highs and lows of people s personal lives over a period of several decades Despite his literary success, Larry is often embarrassed at being able to enjoy a comparatively comfortable lifestyle without ever needing to roll up his sleeves and commit to a proper job his father was a farmer He also recognises that there is to life than the tinsel of literary praise so true This was my first read by this astonishingly gifted author, and it shan t be my last Stegner was clearly at one with nature and a charming aside about Achilles the Tortoise immediately reminded me of dear old Gerald Durrell Oh, and the women in this book are given equal billing to the men, which is always a good thing in my view Because this human story was capably written and wonderfully realised, it didn t need any flash bang wallop or bells and whistles It s ostensibly a book where a seasoned author has taken his time and allowed his love of words to drive the narrative. Does it seem ironic that a book I ve awarded a full pentad of stars is also the cause of great frustration Not when I tell you that my problem has nothing to do with the novel itself, but rather in conjuring the right words to do it justice You see every account I run through my head makes it sound boring than it is I guess I should just start by telling you it s about two couples who met during the Great Depression Sid and Charity Lang live well on inherited wealth Larry and Sally Morgan struggle in comparison, but have inviting prospects in the groves of academe While Larry and Sid were junior colleagues in the English Department at the University of Wisconsin, their wives met at a mixer that led to the alliance Despite the generally hard times, the two couples shared lots of laughs and slathered layers of glue on to their friendship Hard knocks ensued and health became an issue, yet the ties stayed intact But nothing much happened you d call sensational In fact, the dearth of drama was something that Larry himself hit upon early in his narrationHow do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these Where are the things novelists seize upon and readers expect Where is the high life, the conspicuous waste, the violence, the kinky sex, the death wish Where are the suburban infidelities, the promiscuities, the convulsive divorces, the alcohol, the drugs, the lost weekends Where are the hatreds, the political ambitions, the lust for power Where are speed, noise, ugliness, everything that makes us who we are and makes us recognize ourselves in fiction But would a failure by those measures be so bad I m lucky in that most of the people I spend time with are pretty fully evolved That includes GR friends, I say in the least unctuous tone possible Their deviations from the norm are subtle, and all the fascinating for how well I can imagine them playing out in my own outwardly conventional world Stegner was a master observer of nuanced traits When he profiled characters as was the case in about 90% of this book , depth was a foregone conclusion Charity, with her outsized personality, was the natural ringleader Larry was the most accomplished, and in his role as narrator, the closest to all knowing Sally had the oldest soul, the most empathy, and the biggest shoulders for a heavy load Sid, the wealthy scion, turned out to be the most conflicted a would be poet and dreamer sometimes at odds with Charity s agenda and will.I m hardly a Stegner expert with this being only my second sampling Angle of Repose being the first , but he strikes me as the wise litterateur who makes most other writers look bush league in comparison Every page has a reminder that his wording is superior, that his insights are better written and, for that matter, better conceived Here are a few short examples to illustrate the writing and to hint at the thematic core.Larry, having been dealt another blow Accept I get tired of accepting I m tired of hearing the Lord shapes the back to the burden. Tenure hopefuls sharing a bit of dark humor You hear what the dean said about Jesus Christ Sure He s a good teacher, but what s He publishedI can t remember which character said this, but figure it might as well have been Stegner himself Unconsidered, merely indulged, ambition becomes a vice it can turn a man into a machine that knows nothing but how to run Considered, it can be something else pathway to the stars, maybe. And another one that could have come directly from Stegner, maybe from a master class in writing Drama demands the reversal of expectation, but in such a way that the first surprise is followed by an immediate recognition of inevitability And inevitability takes careful pin setting. Speaking of writing classes, Stegner was evidently very good as a teacher Students such as Wendell Berry, Larry McMurtry, Thomas McGuane, Ken Kesey and Raymond Carver speak to that I always wonder, though, if Lesson 1 is to first become brilliant In a way it doesn t matter, craftsmanship vs innate intellect, since to me Stegner had both And speaking of pin setting, the closing scenes he built towards featured plenty of drama even if most of it was subcutaneous.This was the last book Stegner wrote, published at the age of 78 It was paced well at 368 pages, but I d have happily read had he cared to stretch it into an epic The span of history was wide, from their early days in Madison to their elder years at the Langs summer home in Vermont But most of the intervening decades were skipped Maybe Stegner s time and energy for a longer book were running out Besides, he likely said all he intended to say as it was It made me think that part of the wisdom we gain as we age comes in recognizing what truly matters the people around us and the ways we connect This book was a great paean to mature realizations. This defines the term character driven novel, multi faceted and deeply defined Steigner hones each with a surgeon s precision A story of two couples, the joys and challenges of their marriages and enduring friendship and a life cocooned within Ivy League s walls Larry Morgan narrator workaholic, driven, rags to riches college professor author extraordinaireI was a cork held under, my impulse was always upSally Morgan ah Saint SallyI had to live, out of pure gratitudeSid Lang repressed poet handsome, wealthy weak Charity Lang generous passionate, also a ball breaking control freak Without her this would ve been painfully dull.I had a hard time seeing past their smugnessTheir intelligence and their civilized tradition protect them from most of the temptations, indiscretions, vulgarities, and passionate errors that pester and perturb most of usand sense of superiority, they kinda drove me nutsConsider your birthright, we told each other when fatigue or laziness threatened to slow our hungry slurping of culture Think who you are You were not made to live like brutes, but to pursue virtue and knowledge Undereducated brute that I am those passages made me want to huck this book at a wallThey have been able to buy quiet, and distance themselves from industrial uglinessFair enough and admirably honest While I shared their reverence for literature and art they lost me with their DISINTEREST in anything outside their cozy little world Cons Pretty obvious I had a problem with the tone Add to that the pacing I love character driven novels but a bit action wouldn t have hurt An argument over if the teabags had been packed or not view spoiler they were hide spoiler
Wallace Earle Stegner was an American historian, novelist, short story writer, and environmentalist Some call him The Dean of Western Writers He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and the U.S National Book Award in 1977.
- 335 pages
- Crossing to Safety
- Wallace Stegner
- 08 March 2019 Wallace Stegner