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335 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1987
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?
Accept? I get tired of accepting. I'm tired of hearing the Lord shapes the back to the burden.
You hear what the dean said about Jesus Christ? Sure He's a good teacher, but what's He published?
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.
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.
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.
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.
The hemlocks like this steep shore. Like other species, they hang on to their territorymuch 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.
“¿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.
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…
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.