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Crossing to Safety

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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.

335 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1987

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About the author

Wallace Stegner

187 books1,589 followers
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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,960 reviews
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,084 reviews7,005 followers
July 5, 2019
Books like this are why I read. Despite some dark passages, it’s a delight to read and I’m adding it as one of my all-time favorites.

The story follows two couples through life. It’s an academic novel in a sense – both men start out as English professors at the University of Wisconsin in the difficult years of the late 1930’s – the end of the Depression, heading into WW II. The hunt for the Holy Grail of tenure and discussions of suitable academic work that will get tenure is one theme - poetry? novels? literary criticism? Each year the two couples get together at a summer family compound in Vermont owned by the wealthier couple.


The introduction tells us that “Crossing to Safety is a love story…in the sense that it explores private lives. No outsider ever knows the interior landscape of a marriage. It is one of the great secrets kept between couples…The hunt for love is always on, and in some tragic, truthful, stunning way it forever eludes us.”

One family is much wealthier than the other and helps the former out with a loan that they pay off over time. In chapters that alternate between their present older age (60’s) and their younger years, we learn about their romances and their struggles.


And the afterword tells us something startling about the author’s “uncanny sensitivity to the needs and feelings of women in general; this is certainly reflected in his fiction, in which women play a larger and more central role than in any other male writer I know about.” That’s quite a statement. To an extent this whole book is the story of one woman’s plan (the wife of the main character’s best friend) for the four of them: a matriarchy in a sense. She took this couple in ‘under her wing’ for their whole life. She had a plan – right down to the how and the where she would die once she had cancer.


The author is best known for his novels of the West such as Angle of Repose, winner of the 1971 Pulitzer, which is also one my favorites. However Crossing is not a Western novel; in fact I’d call it an ‘Eastern’ one.

A great book.

Three photos of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom:
Top from newengland.com
Middle from greenmountainclub.org
Bottom from tripadvisor.com
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews874 followers
March 10, 2015
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 more 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 narration:
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?

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 more subtle, and all the more fascinating for how well I can imagine them playing out in my own outwardly conventional world. Stegner was a master observer of more 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 published?

I 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 more 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.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,295 reviews120k followers
August 25, 2022
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 more 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.

Wallace Stegner - image from Explore Big Sky

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, more 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 more 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 more 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 more 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.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Melody.
1,170 reviews331 followers
April 24, 2012
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!
Profile Image for Swrp.
663 reviews
December 2, 2021
"Why is it so important to be safe?"

A wonderful story. A miracle of a book. A magical tale, in a different and real sort of way. A real, intense and impactful story that is so human. Indeed, a once in a lifetime read and a book of a lifetime. Brilliantly written and narrated. Vivid and descriptive - the emotions, the characters, the nature and the landscape. Wise, mature, powerful and fulfilling. A story of commitment, marriage, understanding and friendship.

[Wallace Stegner, nytimes.com.]

Crossing to Safety is born from the depths of the writer's heart - the writing overflows with a lifetime of wisdom. The story of two couples, the Morgans, Sally and Larry, and the Langs, Charity and Sid. An elderly Larry narrates this story of their relationships and life long friendship. The characters will remain in memory, even after the book is done, for a long time to come.

A humble advice to all those who may have not 'understood' this book : kindly read this book again after a few years. Crossing to Safety is a kind of story that gets better with time.

If you have not read this book yet, then do it right now. You will see your tomorrow and the life going forward in a totally different perspective. And, this is nothing short of a miracle.

This is a not to be missed book.


About Charity: "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."


"They kilt us but they ain’t whupped us yit."
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,635 followers
January 22, 2022
“… you’ve got the wrong idea of what writers do. They don’t understand any more than other people. They invent only plots they can resolve. They ask the questions they can answer. Those aren’t people that you see in books, those are constructs. Novels or biographies, it makes no difference. I couldn’t reproduce the real Sid and Charity Lang, much less explain them; and if I invented them I’d be falsifying something I don’t want to falsify.”

Wallace Stegner’s narrator, Larry Morgan, may have uttered those words, yet he entirely convinced me that Sid and Charity Lang were indeed real people. It seemed a clever trick to say such a thing and then to go ahead and prove just the opposite. Larry and Sally, Sid and Charity. I’m quite certain they are not simply constructs of the imagination. Stegner depicted them with such clarity, I just had to believe in them. I had no choice really. And despite the fact that this is told from Larry’s point of view, it is the Langs that sit in the spotlight.

“I have heard of people’s lives being changed by a dramatic or traumatic event – a death, a divorce, a winning lottery ticket, a failed exam. I never heard of anybody’s life but ours being changed by a dinner party.”

Larry and Sally Morgan land in Madison, Wisconsin during the Great Depression, as a result of Larry’s appointment to the English department at the university. There they form an unlikely friendship with the Langs whose backgrounds are worlds apart from their own. Stegner goes on to describe a bond that goes beyond blood and family ties. It is one based entirely on the conscious decision of both couples to get to know one another and nurture that relationship. Long-lasting friendship is not a given once that initial connection is made. The thread keeping it together is much different from that of family, which always seems to be there no matter what, even if it’s a rather snarled thread. There is work to be done, and the effort needs to come from both sides. I found myself reflecting on my own friendships. I’ve never had the experience of a “couples” friendship like this, setting out on vacations with one another, bonding over shared pregnancies, or struggling with end of life together. But naturally I’ve had my own friendships. Many of these are fleeting memories. Others have lasted at some basic level. Only the rare ones reach the level described by Stegner, especially that between Sally and Charity. It’s all so beautifully written here, much as I expected after my first encounter with his prose.

“Charity and Sally are stitched together with a thousand threads of feeling and shared experience. Each is for the other that one unfailingly understanding and sympathetic fellow-creature that everybody wishes for and many never find.”

As far as personalities go, these run the gamut. As unlikely as the friendship between the two couples may seem, it may also appear improbable that Sid and Charity are locked together in marriage. Unless you believe that opposites attract. I sure do. Whether opposites can stick it out for the long haul is another thing entirely. It sure makes for compelling reading though! There’s a lot packed in about the academic world, writing and creativity, and doing what makes your heart happy. Holding back a loved one from his or her dreams in favor of safety and security. Poetry, books and the publishing industry.

“He believes that all serious writers have a vocation, a sort of mystical call. What they exploit is not intelligence or training, but a glorious gift that is also an obligation.”

There’s a great sense of place in this novel, too. There’s no doubt that Stegner was awed by nature, as the passages of the surroundings were so wondrously descriptive. Idyllic days spent in the woods of northern Vermont. An excursion to Italy. I can see that place in Vermont right now if I close my eyes and shut out the murmur of the television in the other room, the sound of a snowblower across the street. Yet, despite the beauty of such places, we can’t deny the fact that what is given can also be taken away. How do we reconcile ourselves to this reality?

“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 more 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.”

I was wholly taken in by this novel from the start. But the last section of this book?! Oh my! So much to mull over. I was thinking about it for days after finishing. Rereading certain passages. Asking myself, what would I do in these circumstances. Wallace Stegner really is everything my friends said he would be. This was only our second waltz, but I’m going to leave plenty of room on the dance card for his name. No reason to partner with a bunch of duds when someone else has perfect grace and skill.

“I find myself wondering what ever happened to the people, friends and otherwise, with whom we started out… How much would they understand, from their own experience, of what has happened to us?”
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
October 22, 2020
A Lost World

Once 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. Nevertheless “There 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.
Profile Image for Robin.
484 reviews2,619 followers
June 5, 2020
How STRANGE. I assumed, based on the endless 5-star ratings out there for this book, that it was going to be a slam dunk for me.

But this book, which is the story of two couples (Larry and his wife Sally, and their friends Sid and Charity), bugged the heck out of me.

I'm SORRY! This is may be the sequel to my controversial Prince of Tides experience, in which I just couldn't find the love for a beloved classic.

I'll start off by saying there's no denying that Wallace Stegner is a lovely and elegant writer. I wouldn't and couldn't critique him on that level. He is a Pulitzer prize and National Book Award winning writer, with an impressive literacy legacy.

But (and you knew there had to be one)... I wasn't in the least bit enamoured with the story. It was, in my view, 1) highly sentimental, 2) populated with annoying characters who were in unhealthy yet romanticized relationships, 3) just not that interesting.

Larry is a writer, Sally is his saintly, soft-spoken wife (who doesn't seem to have much else going on). They meet and instantly fall under the spell of Charity and her husband Sid. Charity is strong willed (see: pathologically controlling) and Sid is deferential (see: spineless). Sid wants to be a poet but Charity forbids his writing poetry in favour of growing a successful career at the university.

The book follows the two couples as Larry rises to success and Sid stays under Charity's thumb. Both relationships are described as "addictions" and it's hard to see either couple as happy. But Stegner celebrates them, oddly.

I found myself tiring of wealthy Sid and Charity, their boisterous generosity. And of Larry and Sally, constantly extolling them for being so boisterous and generous. I tired of the delightful idealized escapades they enjoyed together. I tired of the decades long fight between Charity and Sid over Sid's wanting to write poetry. Come ON, really? This was so weak, so hard to believe or care about. He can't write a few poems and be a professor? Sid's like a whipped dog, right to the bitter end.

I have to wonder what Stegner has to celebrate about these relationships other than the sheer tenacity of the couples. Is this the wisdom he came to in his old age? What exactly is he advocating? Stay with your spouse until you die, even if you are unhappy, co-dependent and resentful? Or is this what he decided marriage was?

I know I'm completely on the outside here, and I'm treading on hallowed ground - once again I'm wearing my slippers as to not leave a trace. Please ignore me, lovers of Stegner's last and adored novel. I'm just one lowly reader who probably should stick to McCarthy and his ilk.
Profile Image for Jaline.
444 reviews1,607 followers
January 2, 2018
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 more?

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 more 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.
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews3,000 followers
May 25, 2021
You come to me and say, “I’m going away to a cabin in the woods by myself for a few days, to escape the noise of 21st century life. I need to recenter my priorities and remember what it can be like to disconnect with electronics and reconnect with humanity. I want to take something to read, similar to the incomparable Stoner by John Williams, that will remind me why I fell in love with literature. A quiet book where I can derive pleasure from the beauty of the words on the page and the images they conjure. It’s alright if it breaks my heart a little.”

I get up, take Crossing to Safety off the bookshelf, and press it into your hands. “This is the book,” I say.

“Really?” you ask. “A book written in the ‘80s about a decades-long friendship between two married couples? Hmm. I think I’ve heard of it.”

“Yes,” I respond. “You probably have. It’s a favorite of many astute readers. Had it not been for the inclusion of some plot points I try to avoid, it might have been one of mine.”

“Huh, okay. Then this is the book,” you confirm as you slide it into your bag.

“Yes it is,” I smile before adding while you walk out the door, “Just don’t forget you said you were alright with a broken heart.”

Blog: https://www.confettibookshelf.com/
IG: @confettibookshelf
Profile Image for Mary.
425 reviews773 followers
May 2, 2013
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.

Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,395 followers
July 12, 2019
"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 cases…"
—Wallace Stegner

As 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 more 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.
Profile Image for Guille.
756 reviews1,547 followers
November 11, 2021
Una novela maravillosa. Sin tener nada que ver ni por temática ni por estilo, me ha fascinado de la misma manera inexplicable que lo hizo Stoner, el famoso libro de John Williams. Con una exquisita sencillez, ambos autores consiguen conferir a unas vidas sin especial atractivo ese encanto extraordinario que las convierte en el objeto de un relato conmovedor e inolvidable.

La novela es la insuperable respuesta a una pregunta que el propio autor se hace:
“¿Cómo hacer un libro que cualquiera quiera leer a partir de unas vidas tan apacibles como éstas? ¿Dónde ésta la vida de lujos y despilfarros ostentosos, la violencia, el sexo retorcido, los deseos de muerte? ¿Dónde los odios, las ambiciones políticas, la sed de poder? ¿Dónde la velocidad, el ruido, la fealdad, todo lo que nos hace quienes somos y nos hace reconocernos en la literatura?”
“En lugar seguro” es una reflexión sobre la escritura y el arte, una exaltación de la cultura y la naturaleza, un precioso canto a la amistad, al poder de la voluntad, al trabajo. Una historia sobre cuatro personas buenas y generosas que, equivocadas o no, nunca pretendieron hacer ningún mal y sí buscar la felicidad de los que los rodeaban. Cuatro personas que llegaron a vivir en un paraíso como dos Evas y dos Adanes y en el que no faltó ni la serpiente ni la expulsión.
“(la amistad) Es una relación que no tiene una forma establecida, no hay lazos ni obligaciones, como en el matrimonio o la familia, y no son la ley, ni la propiedad, ni la sangre quienes sostienen la unión; no hay en ella más adhesivo que el aprecio mutuo.”
El eje de la novela es Charity, una de esas mujeres fuertes y decididas que le tocó vivir una época en la que las de su sexo tenían muy difícil (más) desarrollar su potencial. En vez de eso, Charity erigió su reino matriarcal desde el que dirigió la vida de cuantos la rodeaban viviendo vicariamente de los éxitos profesionales de Sid, su obediente y dependiente marido que, obligado por su mujer a abandonar sus pretensiones artísticas, no consiguió estar a la altura requerida en el mundo académico que le fue adjudicado. También Larry vivió una vida dedicada a su mujer, Sally, después de que esta contrajera la polio (una enfermedad que debería bastar para enterrar, metafóricamente hablando, claro, a todos y a cada uno de los antivacunas que por ahí pululan). Aun así, con mucho esfuerzo y trabajo consiguió cierto éxito tanto en su labor editorial como en su oficio de escritor.
“Sospecho que lo que tanto hace enfadar a los hedonistas cuando piensan en los entusiastas del trabajo es que, sin drogas ni orgías, las personas que alcanzan sus metas nos lo pasamos mejor.”
No es esta una historia de dolor y sacrificio, todo lo contrario. Habla de pactos y alianzas, de conciliaciones y adaptaciones, de comprensión y paciencia, pero, sobre todo, de un amor que prevalece gracias al respeto y la admiración que todos se tienen y al enriquecimiento que tales relaciones supone para sus propias vidas por encima de cualquier defecto, dolor o circunstancia adversa.

Una gran novela.
Profile Image for Debbie W..
724 reviews487 followers
February 17, 2022
Why I chose to listen to this book:
1. since I enjoyed listening to Stegner's Angle of Repose, a couple of GR friends recommended that I read some of his other books, including this one; and,
2. considered by many to be an American classic, I thought it would be a great addition to my "Classics Month"!

1. Oh, my heart! I felt like I was listening to a story about real people, not just characters in a book! Following the decades-long enduring friendship between Larry (our narrator) and Sally Morgan, along with Sid and Charity Lang, I couldn't help but feel emotionally connected to these married couples' joyful moments, work issues, marital discord, tragic events - all revolving around their intense loyalties for each other;
2. in case I didn't make myself clear, this is an exceptional character-driven novel! One gets the sense of some strong personalities, especially Charity's. Although I most likely wouldn't be a part of these people's social circle, sometimes I felt a kinship towards Charity, but at other times, a powerful frustration for her martyr-like behavior;
3. some parts of this story were so heartbreaking for me that they had me crying long after the story was done! I just had to walk around outside for a while, letting it all soak in;
4. narrator Richard Poe, does such a believable job with all the characters; and,
5. I think readers with an English major or those who are attuned to English literature would really enjoy the many references made throughout the story.

Small niggle:
Sometimes it got a little wordy, and some references were obscure for me, but overall, these weren't too obstructive for my reading pleasure.

Another Wallace Stegner novel that I would strongly recommend for readers who have been, or who are, in long-term relationships!
Profile Image for Cheryl.
464 reviews593 followers
February 7, 2017
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 more 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 more alive, more competent in my mind and more 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 more to say about this book, or I guess I should be clear that I do have more 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 more 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 more to say about this encompassing read, but I have the feeling I've already said enough...
Profile Image for Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh.
167 reviews508 followers
March 31, 2014
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 extraordinaire “I was a cork held under, my impulse was always up”
• Sally Morgan: ah Saint Sally…“I had to live, out of pure gratitude”
• Sid 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 smugness “Their intelligence and their civilized tradition protect them from most of the temptations, indiscretions, vulgarities, and passionate errors that pester and perturb most of us" and sense of superiority, they kinda drove me nuts. “Consider 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 wall.

“They have been able to buy quiet, and distance themselves from industrial ugliness.” Fair 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 more action wouldn’t have hurt. An argument over if the teabags had been packed or not a highlight.
Meanderings: I’m not having much luck picking classics this year, blame it on my Glasgow working-class roots but the trials & tribulations of the privileged just aren’t working for me, no matter how elegantly written and thought provoking. Guess I’m jealous, should just stick with ‘Dickens’. So consider the source and read other reviews, most are glowing.
Undecided on Stegner With an autobiographical flavor this is his final novel. Like Morgan, Stegner also grew up dirt poor & went on to become a great writer Similarly he still managed 3 degrees despite the timing of the Great Depression, amazing. Learned this after finishing the book, maybe I’d have gotten more out of it had I known this going in. Anyway, will definitely be reading Angle of Repose
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,339 reviews697 followers
April 12, 2023
This is one of my favorite novels. I read this ten years ago, so I chose to listen to Stegner's brilliant prose this time around. I still recall much of the story, it impacted me that much.

Protagonist Larry Morgan reminisces his life in a series of flashbacks. It's a story of Larry's marriage to the love of his life, Sally. As a young married couple, they met a dynamic couple who became life-long friends. Larry reflects upon his life, his career, his struggles, his good fortune.

Stegner's prose is the reason to read this. Listening to the audio is a true joy.

I cannot recommend this novel enough.
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,043 reviews903 followers
February 5, 2023
Oh, my heart, what a novel.

I'm incredulous that this novel is not up there among the best novels of the 20th century .
I'm also ashamed to have heard of Stegner only last year.

I can't remember ever reading a novel about a friendship between two adult couples. Such friendships are rare. Lots of things have to align for that to happen, besides proximity, compatibility between four people, and the kids, a similar socio-economic standing, political and intellectual similarities.

Written in the 1980s, this is a novel about a friendship forged in the late 1930s, when Larry Morgan and Sid Lang were colleagues in the English Department of a university in Madison, Wisconsin. They're both hoping for tenure. Their financial situation is very different - the Morgans live paycheck to paycheck, whereas the Langs have a privileged financial situation.

Charity Lang, Sid's wife, is a force of nature. She's vivacious, enthusiastic, organised, determined, generous, and bullheaded. Nothing fazes her. Her huge house is a hub for entertainment and get-togethers.
She's the ultimate hostess. She never stops and loses patience with those who don't toe the line or keep up, an impossible task. I liked her a lot.
Larry's wife, Sally, is kind and unassuming, in many ways, Charity's opposite. But opposites attract.
The Morgans live their best years in the Langs' company.

Besides the wonderful characterisations, Stegner created a very atmospheric novel, with beautifully descriptive prose. I could smell the woods, feel I was inside the Langs' house and had picnics with them and their extended family.

Truly, a most marvellous novel.

I think this is my favourite novel of the year, so far.

NB: A little movie on Stegner. It's narrated by Robert Redford - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGCC6...
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,539 followers
July 11, 2017
My review of Stegner's Angle of Repose in which I was fairly critical of the book, several readers objected and insisted I read Crossing to Safety. Well, I listened to the audiobook during a long 7h drive today and found it more interesting than Angle and yet not in my upper echelon of American 20th C novels. Crossing reminded me more of Richard Russo's style that it did of Updike (both of whose writing I prefer). I liked the descriptions very much (as I did in Angle), but had a hard time really liking Larry and Sally. I felt a bit repulsed by Charity and sorry for Sid. And I felt that - like in Angle - when Stegner wants to make a dramatic point, there is never really a fine point to it, it is to me quite heavy handed. Midway, he does a clever fake breaking of the 4th wall and I liked analogies he used (especially "the pilgrim versus the pickpocket"). I found all the name-dropping in Florence a bit tedious even if I did appreciate some of the analysis particularly of Massacio (one of my favoritea there) as well as the playing of Beethoven's 9th over the chilling conflict over dishwashing. Perhaps the best way to express my feeling about this book is conflicted: I know many loved it and while I can see its qualities, I cannot say that I had more than an appreciation for it. Thinking about it more, I fet there was a bit of anti-Semitism in the book - despite the narrator's offhand denial - in that the only Jewish people portrayed are the couple that is rejected by the group, but especially Morris later who has a stutter. Honestly, I didn't see the point of adding that personal defect on that character. Maybe I am too sensitive, but that did bug me a bit.

GR member Joachim pointed out this cool adhoc sountrack for Angles that I should share as well booksounds

Oh, and I did read and review Stegner's Crossing to Safety as well after repeated recommendations in the comments to this review.
Profile Image for Matt.
918 reviews28.3k followers
April 26, 2016
Life is a process of gradually narrowing choices. You learn this early in life, often when playing sports. You know you’re not going to be a Major League Baseball player because you can’t hit a curveball, or a fast fastball, or, in fact, the ball off a tee. Later, in school, you discover that your eyesight – and fear of heights – is going to keep you from being a jet pilot; and that your biology score is going to keep you from being a doctor, or passing biology; and that you aren’t ever going to be a lighthouse keeper because those things are all automated now.

The winnowing of opportunity extends to friendship. When you’re young and single and carefree you can hang out with whoever you want (whenever you want, at whatever bar you want).

Once you start to pair off, however, and your previously single-and-carefree friends do likewise, you wake up one morning to realize that all your friends are couple-friends. They are lovely people and you like them and all that – but they’re also a compromise to the circumstances of life. We’re friends because you’re married and we’re married and you have kids and we have kids!

I love my couple-friends. We have a great time together. The friendship, though, is not organic, at least not in the way of your first best friend, or your high school pals, or the guys you ran with in college. Couple friends are a trickier milieu. You need to make or discover a common ground, rather than having it to begin with.

After being friends with another couple for awhile, you forget who met who first. My wife and I still argue over who gets credit for creating our social circle. She thinks it’s her charm. I think it’s my low-grade alcoholism.

The dynamics of couple-friends is at the heart of Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. The two couples are Larry and Sally Morgan, and Sidney and Charity Lang. Larry is the novel’s first-person narrator. He is a teacher and a writer and a bit of a navel-gazer; she is a housewife. Sidney is also a teacher, and independently wealthy; his wife is a blunt and ambitious string-puller whose family owns a Kennedy Compound-like piece of land in the Vermont hills.

(There’s no perfect place to say this, so I’ll just say it here – there is no swinging in this book. Don’t expect anyone to be crossing to a foursome. I know, I was disappointed too).

The Morgans and the Langs meet in Madison, at the University of Wisconsin, during the Great Depression. In Crossing to Safety, however, the outside world seldom intrudes on a very insular, inward-looking story. Larry sometimes mentions his poverty (rapidly overcome), but the reality of the Great Depression – and, for that matter, the convulsions of World War II – are deeply backgrounded. Stegner’s interest is on the friendship between these four, and he allows very little to distract him from divining these mysteries.

It is clear to see the themes and arcs that Stegner is trying to develop. Larry and Sid (their wives are never given independent ambitions) begin as young, idealistic world-beaters, with aspirations towards publication. As they grow older, they confront the sudden turns and dead ends that inevitably litter the road of life.

This theme is stated rather explicitly:

What ever happened to the passion we all had to improve ourselves, live up to our potential, leave a mark on the world? Our hottest arguments were always about how we could contribute. We did not care about the rewards. We were young and earnest. We never kidded ourselves that we had the political gifts to reorder society or insure social justice. Beyond a basic minimum, money was not a goal we respected…

Of course, the only people who can afford not to respect money are those who have it. And that’s part of the problem, dramatically speaking, with Crossing to Safety. Career-wise, at least, the road isn’t all that bad for Larry or Sid. Both of them trace a pretty nice career path that leaves them financially secure and able to spend entire summers at the Lang’s Vermont hideaway, enjoying nature, reading the classics, and eating extravagant lunches (the descriptions of the lunches should not be read on an empty stomach). They have the luxury of living what Charity calls the “austere life,” while floating above the everyday struggles other people. There are no bread lines, New Deal programs, or bean dinners for these folks.

In other words, Stegner is describing a very particular type of white middle class life. I don’t necessarily think he was going for universality with this story (which I believe to be partially autobiographical), but a certain universality has been heaped upon it, in naming this a classic. There are certain universal truths in play, but the Langs and the Morgans live very particular, not-very-relatable lives, especially given the context in which the novel plays out.

This is not to say that bad things don’t happen. They do. There are massive life disruptions that come out of nowhere, just like they do in life. Of course, these two couples are more able than most to weather these storms.

More than anything, this is a novel about aging. About the things that we start to lose, no matter how successful we are, how well we plan, how cleanly we live.

In order to cover four lives in 327 pages, there are some massive temporal leaps taken in the narrative. The novel begins in the novel’s present day, with all four friends in late middle age. It then flashes back to 1937, when the Langs and the Morgans meet and become instant besties. These scenes are rich and full of detail. Other sections, though, cover large swaths of life with cursory depictions. By the time the novel reaches its third act, the jumps have become so pronounced that it weakens the story. For instance, there comes a point when both families have young children. Then, in a matter of pages, those children are all grown and engaging in long paragraphs of expository dialogue.

Crossing to Safety is rather unusual in its topic and its execution. Larry’s interest in Sid and Charity borders on the Ahab-like. He describes them minutely, painstakingly, even relating a section of Sid and Charity’s courtship as though he were an omnipresent observer, though he had not yet met them. The odd result is that Sid and Charity become indelible characters, while Larry’s own wife Sally becomes a one-dimensional plot point.

That said, I liked this Crossing to Safety quite a bit. Stegner is a very good, at times beautiful writer.

It felt like a purification before the next fateful, hopeful chapter of our lives. Up to our chins in the water that foamed through its marble bowl, tiptoeing the smooth bottom to keep our noses above the surface, the light wavering and winking down on us and flickering off the curved walls, trees overhanging us and the sky beyond those, and all around and through us, a soul-massage, the rush and patter and tinkle of water and the brush and break of bubbles. It was a present that made the future tingle.

What I didn't know as I stood blissful in the foam was that I had begun to foam too, though I hadn’t yet felt the salt.

Stegner has the courage to give us characters who aren’t wholly likeable. Charity, especially, is an infuriating bundle of contradictions. He has some remarkable perceptions. And he really knows how to describe a picnic! His endgame, set at Sid and Charity’s compound, is absolutely devastating – not entirely pleasant to read, but honest and brutal.

Crossing to Safety ultimately lingers with you awhile as a mournful and melancholy tribute to the passage of time.
Profile Image for Georg.
Author 1 book41 followers
December 4, 2013
For me this book is difficult to review. On the one hand I needed two weeks for 280 pages which is not a good sign, on the other hand I enjoyed reading it a lot. In the end I did not know how to rate it. Instead of deciding spontaneously I listened two the both voices in my head (yes, I hear voices), the Good Guy and the Bad Guy. I will give you just a short summary of their dialogue.
GG: "You must be kidding. Three stars for this excellently written masterpiece?"
BG: "I don't object that part, it's well written, but what was it about?"
GG: "Friendship, well educated people, marriage, age and the meaning of life. What else do you expect?"
BG: "Uhh, educated people who quote incessantly Eliot, Dante and Goethe and thousands of writers I could not even repeat the names of. And then those characters: Four saints in a rectangular friendship who excuse themselves all the time for being generous. The worst sin described is Charity's tendancy to be a bit pushy and Sid's tendancy to be a bit weak. I stress a bit since everything in this novel is a bit of something, but never the real thing."
GG: "Stegner himself admits he did not want to write a drama or an adventurous story. And what is wrong with that. You liked Independence day a lot and nothing happens there either."
BG: "At least Bascombe is mischievous and - you know - I like bad guys. But this is not the point. It makes a lot of difference if nothing happens in four days or if nothing happens in half a century. And finally: it does not improve the lack of plot if the author tells us that he did in on purpose. Name at least three events in his story."
GG: "The accident on the lake..."
BG: "They were saved in a couple of minutes."
GG: "Sally's dramatic sickness..."
BG: "Well, in the end she is the most sane in the scene."
GG: "I think I should not mention the teabags...."
BG: "Better not."

In the end, as in most cases, BG won the dispute. [Book: Crossing to safety] is like a beautiful day on a sailboat in the midst of the most wonderful landscape, but without wind.

Profile Image for Bob - in & out - on assignment.
205 reviews77 followers
May 4, 2023
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Published 1987 by Random House

Very brief summary -
Beginning during the depression, this story presents the hopefulness of two young, educated couples who met during a time of vast uncertainty. One couple from the east and other from the west meet at the University of Wisconsin - Madison where Larry Morgan and Sid Lang are hopeful and spirited members of the English Department. The story is told mostly in flashback; the narrator, Larry Morgan recounts the lives of he and his wife, Sally, and that of their very close friends, Sid and Charity Lang. Their friendship is near instantaneous despite vast differences in upbringing and social status. The book presents their disparate personalities, lives and careers, trials and tribulations, health and aging challenges, and strengths and weaknesses.

My thoughts -
I now understand why Wallace Stegner is so highly regarded as an author of contemporary literary fiction. It took me some time to get around to reading one of his novels, but I'm quite pleased that I have now done so. It was a treat to read his prose and become exposed to his ability to dive deeply into the human condition and so eloquently put it all down on paper. My only difficulty with this work were the numerous references to classical literature of which I have little familiarity and the use of Italian words (again - of which I have little familiarity) when describing their year in Florence. To the extent I researched these unknown items, my reading rhythm was disturbed. All in all, a highly recommended work and fully deserving of my 4-star rating.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book484 followers
February 11, 2016
When I closed this book and laid it aside, my hand was shaking. The shaking was coming from deep inside my body and soul, where Wallace Stegner had infused me with words and images that caused me to tremble with recognition.

Stegner understands relationships and he also understands the part of the individual that is never given away to anyone else. He paints that so clearly that you see yourself in it as if it were a mirror. If you cannot see elements of your own marriage in this portrait, you can surely see elements of the marriages you have observed up-close and personal. If you have ever had a friend who lifted you and held you when you would have otherwise fallen, and felt the obligations that accompany such a love, you will recognize that friendship as well. You can feel the bond and the tense pull against it equally.

Lastly, Stegner understands time, inevitability, fate. He sees the struggle and recognizes it as belonging to each of us.

“You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. but within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine.”

Stegner prefaces his book with a quotation from Robert Frost’s poem, I Could Give All to Time. It provides him with a title for his book, but more than that, it echoes its theme. The things in life that are most precious to us are the intangibles, the things we can barely identify ourselves, and the things no one can possibly rip from us.

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 spent several hours reading and re-reading this poem today, and wondering why I never sat with it before, to digest and devour it, but only admired it in passing, with Frost always being such a favorite poet of mine.

I find it difficult to put into words the impact this novel had on me as I read it. I loved every single, carefully chosen, word. I walked the hills of Vermont, danced to the late night records, felt the intensity of the love between these people, and understood the relationships they had forged, in ways that boggled my own mind. It is an immediate addition to the “favorites” folder. I strongly recommend it to any and all readers.

My sincere thanks to Elyse who put this wonderful author on my radar. I cannot wait to read Angle of Repose!
Profile Image for Pedro.
191 reviews402 followers
February 16, 2020
I’m not going to lie (I’m really bad at it) but I’ll have to admit I only heard about Wallace Stegner last year. At the time I’d read a very positive and passionate review and that was enough for me to know I had to read it. And the title, oh my goodness, isn’t it simply wonderful?

When I started the book a few days ago I basically knew nothing about it besides the fact that this was going to be a story about two couples who become friends. Today, I’m ready to rave about it to the whole world.

Wallace’s elegant, gentle and refined storytelling skills gave me shivers down my spine from the very first page (I promise you’re not going to find a single swear word in these pages).
This was (is!) a beautiful story and the characters jumped out from the pages. I feel like I know them better now than some people I’ve known all my life. Oh, my gosh, how I cared about these people. My hands were literally shaking all the time I held this book in my hands.

And if get started about Wallace’s prose, I’m afraid you all might think I’m just crazy and obviously exaggerating. Well, I’m not. Exaggerating, I mean, but I’m a bit crazy, yes. I underlined the whole book!

While telling this story Wallace gives a sense of space and time like no other author I’ve read before.
In my opinion, that was his main strength as a writer.

“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.”

As I mentioned above, this is basically a story about two couples and the way they interact with one another; and it’s told from the perspective of one of them at an older age. So yes, plenty of nostalgic and melancholic feelings in here. I believed their friendship from start to finish. I loved them all. All I wished for them was exactly what I wish for myself; that we all could get to a place and time in this crazy life where we’d finally feel like we were Crossing to Safety.

We will get there.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews516 followers
October 21, 2020
Tuning Fork for Epiphanies in the Commonplace

That is ever the difference between the wise and the unwise: the latter wonders at what is unusual; the wise man wonders at the usual.—Emerson

I did not expect too much from this novel, not being a big fan of Stegner's most-recognized novels, Angle of Repose (thee and thou and thy and thine began to crawl my spine) and the uninspiring The Spectator Bird. I was caught off guard then, by how deeply I was stirred by Stegner's semi-autobiographical novel of a close, long-term friendship between two married couples, set in Wisconsin and New England.

Stegner composed a brilliant life contrast: the optimism and enthusiasm of two young, married couples starting out in Madison, Wisconsin, when hope sprung eternal, versus these same marrieds, thirty years on, after life, though gracing them in different ways, has ineluctably dealt each major disappointments and forced them into cathartic concessions.

What struck me most though, was how much Crossing to Safety--Stegner's final novel--more than any other novel I've read, seemed a perfect parting gift to the world: as his last piece of art, an elegiac exercise in the epiphanies emanating from the unexceptional, a sort of tuning fork to resound in us revelations found in ordinary lives and that we can yet discover in each of our own.

This novel not only profoundly moved me, it chimes on in my mind as a carillon of self-contemplation on marriage, friendship and family. One could hardly expect more of a novel.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,222 reviews2,052 followers
March 10, 2018
This is my first book by this author and I was driven to read it by its wonderful title (my next book of his will be Angle of Repose for the same reason) and its enormous popularity. Not necessarily the best of reasons but I was happy with the result.

I doubt if anyone would argue that Stegner writes beautifully. This is the kind of prose you have to read slowly and carefully in order not to miss a thing. The story tells of several decades of friendship between two married couples describing the ups and downs of their careers, the births of their children and some significant illnesses. Normal lives in fact with all the usual pleasures and pains.

The really significant content of Crossing to Safety is the development of the four main characters and their relationships with each other. Of course the closeness of the relationships and reliance of the couples on each other fluctuate over time, affected by world and family events. As the reader I was drawn towards each character whether I liked them as an individual or not and when the book was finished it took a while for me to let them go.

Not five stars for me because I did not close the final page and say "Wow!." Rather four stars for a beautifully crafted, comfortable book about the lives of four interesting characters.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,433 reviews813 followers
February 1, 2020
5★ again
“Charity is tall and striking; Sally smaller, darker, quieter. One dazzles, the other warms.”

They are half of the foursome completed by Sid and Larry, their husbands. The four of them meet in their twenties, become fast friends, though from very different backgrounds, and bump up against each other on and off for the rest of their lives. Their bond is tested from time to time, by distance and circumstance, but remains unbroken.

Larry Morgan narrates the story, beginning near the end, when he and Sally are grandparents staying in a family cottage at the lake. But soon he reminisces about his and Sally’s first ‘home’ together in a tiny basement apartment. It’s during the Depression, and they had just moved from New Mexico to Madison, Wisconsin, where he has a one-year teaching job at the university while he writes.

“I set up a card table for a desk and made a bookcase out of some boards and bricks. In my experience, the world's happiest man is a young professor building bookcases, and the world's most contented couple is composed of that young professor and his wife, in love, employed, at the bottom of a depression from which it is impossible to fall further, and entering on their first year as full adults, not preparing any longer but finally into their lives.”

Grown-ups at last! I loved this book when a friend sent it to me years ago, saying “You must read this!” She and I grew up with fathers who were university professors. They didn’t teach in the same field and came from backgrounds as different as those of the Morgans and the Langs, but she and I were kindred spirits and became best friends at 12. I feel I know these people, and I know them better now that I'm a grandparent. But I digress.

When Larry and Sally arrive in Madison, she is pregnant and they know nobody. They attend a department afternoon tea, and late one day, Larry comes home, bounding down the stairs to cheer up lonely Sally, and is surprised to find company.

“They sat smiling at me. Sally has a smile I would accept as my last view of earth, but it has a certain distance about it, it is under control, you can see her head going on working behind it. This other one, a tall young woman in a blue dress, had quite another kind. In the dim apartment she blazed. Her hair was drawn back in a bun, as if to clear her face for expression, and everything in the face smiled—lips, teeth, cheeks, eyes. I mean to say she had a most vivid and, I saw at once, a really beautiful face.”

One wonders. Larry is devoted to Sally, but he makes Charity sound awfully appealing. Charity is also pregnant (with her second child) and has welcomed Sally as a sister. She invites them to their next party, and Larry is stunned by the magnificent picture the Langs make as they answer the door.

On campus, Sid has always seemed a mild-mannered, gray-suited, bespectacled, deferential man. Not at home, he isn’t. Here he seems like someone who might charm Sally.

“Sidney Lang, he overwhelmed the sight. . . dress was the least part of his transformation. Something had enlarged and altered him. If this had happened in recent years, I would be compelled toward images of Clark What's-His-Name throwing off his glasses and business suit and emerging in his cape as Superman.

This English instructor in his Balkan or whatever it was shirt, standing by his beautiful wife and crushing the hands of his guests, was by Michelangelo out of Carrara, a giant evoked from the rock.”

Larry may be over-awed, but the Langs are impressed that he’s actually had his stories published. (Universities demand Publish or Perish.) In answer to some of the academic show-offs at the party, Larry persuades quiet Sally to read some of "The Odyssey" aloud in Greek.

“She has great dignity and presence when she is cornered, and when she reads that antique poetry she can bring tears to your eyes. It is much better than if you could understand it. She chants out of a remote time with the clang of bronze in it.”

After the party, the four take the first of their countless walks together.

“I remember how quiet it was, how empty the streets at that hour, how our feet were loud on pavement and then hushed in grass and then crackly in leaves. There was a glint of settling frost in the air. Our voices and breaths went up and got mixed with the shadows of trees and the bloom of arc lights and the glitter of stars.”

Walking, camping, swimming, getting out into the fresh air is much a part of the story as the academic striving for jobs and tenure. The activities seem to pull the four together into the kind of camaraderie-loyalty-rivalry you find between siblings or close cousins who have grown up together.

Family. These four are a unit, complete, content, happy to endure the trials of life together.

Something that struck me is that the Langs’ children and the Morgans’ daughter are generally ‘offstage’ being looked after by ‘the girl’ who works for the Langs. Mostly, we watch the foursome develop their connection and watch how they manage their conflicts and make allowances for each other.

Charity is a force of nature. She is the flame around which the others flit. She plots their route, plans their activities, brooks no arguments, although there certainly are some.

“She was still developing her sundial theory of art, which would count no hours but the sunny ones.”

But they love her, and cooperate to keep the peace and maintain the friendship. She reminds me of my father’s occasional joke that “You’ll enjoy yourself whether you like it or not.”

Stegner’s writing is beautiful, comfortable, easy to read. His people are academics, so there is a lot of conversation around poetry, literature, history, culture – all of which they love, but if it’s unfamiliar to you, it doesn’t matter.

You don’t need to know "The Odyssey" to understand how Sally charmed her listeners. You don’t need to have walked through the Vermont woods to appreciate the effect on newcomers. You will feel right at home anyway.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
983 reviews363 followers
June 19, 2019
This is a well written and very subdued story; there are no revelations or culminations.

It is about friendship and marriage over a lifetime and how it evolves, changes, and adjusts. The novel is very character based and concerns two different couples who become close friends. They are both very literary and they meet while teaching at a small college in the mid-west. Most of the settings, captured splendidly by the author, are either in the mid-west or at a lake in northern Vermont that is surrounded by lush forests, streams, and mountains.

The central theme would be the

One main issue I had with this story
Profile Image for Lyn Elliott.
687 reviews178 followers
November 3, 2021
Since I finished reading this book about three weeks ago, I've thought a lot about what its central subject actually is. The friendship between two married couples, with different expectations and backgrounds, over decades is certainly there. But in a sense it feels as though that is the surface, and that there are deeper, less obviously expressed themes throughout the book.

One, it seems to me, is a slow examination of what makes up charity. The dominant female character is Charity, wife of easy going Sid, mother of many children (6?), driving force in all their lives. Charity bubbles with friendliness and generosity when she and Sid meet Larry and Sally, and intervenes to make their lives easier in hard times, always pushing aside thanks.

But she is ruthless in her determination to get her own way, especially controlling of Sid and her family. She is vital, vibrant, wilful. Not kind, which to me must be part of charity. There's no evident warmth in her relationship with her children, we don't see her with them, although having a large family is one of the things she says as a young wife that is most important to her.

Late in the book, the husband of one of Charity and Sid's daughters refers to Sid as being a captive husband, and we are led to see that the husbands are all captive to their wives in some way, Sid from unwillingness to stand against Charity; Larry because his crippled wife, Sally, depends on him. Poor Sally is made to suffer not only a terrible child birth, but polio that leaves her crippled and in irons. The love between Larry and Sally is much gentler, and sustains them both despite their losses and deprivations.

I'm not sure why the terrible child birth is inflicted on Sally as well as the polio. It seemed very unfair, and unnecessary, to give her a double whammy like that. Polio alone establishes her as dependent, though her determination to live a good and loving life give her such strength that it's clear she wouldn't want to be classified as a victim.

Stegner said at some stage that hard writing makes easy reading. Every word is chosen and placed with care, and stylistically I agree that this is easy reading. But this story of people who live unspectacular lives, is also hard to read.

Again, to quote Stegner: 'Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of life amount not to wisdom, but to scar tissue and callus'. In Crossing to Safety we live with the characters as they acquire their scar tissue, right till the very end.

We had an excellent book club discussion, one of the best.

Obit for Stegner at:
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,006 reviews36k followers
March 13, 2017
This is one of my FAVORITE BOOKS.....'ever'!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"Angle of Repose" (also by Wallace Stegner), is also one of my favorite top 10 books --(this is the first time I can say ---I 'really'--'really' can claim to have read TWO books by an author that will be forever LIFE-TIME-FAVORITES!!!!!

I'm only sorry I waited this long to read "Crossing to Safety". (its timeless).

Beautifully written --

Vivid-engaging-(story-telling at its best).

Another 'GREAT' book club discussion book (why hasn't our book club picked this one to read??)

A quote to remember......"I'd rather spend it on Charity" (what is it about that line that has the reader continue to 'think' about this?) ----and 'why' do I find it soooooo pure and beautiful??? (hmmmmmmmmmmmm)......

love it --- loved it.....loved it..... (a book hard to forget --and a book to read again)


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