Crossing to Safety

ISBN: 0141188014
ISBN 13: 9780141188010
By: Wallace Stegner

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About this book

A novel of the friendships and woes of two couples, which tells the story of their lives in lyrical, evocative prose by one of the finest American writers of the late 20th century.

Reader's Thoughts


It is so beautifully written. It is like a song. I feel like I need to drink up all the words and savor this book. I am finishing this book tomorrow. I am fity pages from the end. I will be sad when it is over.Well, I finished the book. Usually, I read pretty quickly and can read more than one book at a time. However, this book captivated me. I love the language of the book. I would highly reccomend it to people who enjoy carefully crafted sentences. Despite the metphore, imagery, and many "quotable lines; I found it to not be a heavy book. I think the author brilliantly decided on an end point for the novel. The novel ended with the protagonist's epiphany. Stegner did this rather than rely on physical events for the novel's termination. It ended about half a page after the epiphany. So, the protagonists realization left a lasting impression on the reader. At first glance the characters do not develope and change throughout the book. Larry, Sally, Charity and Sid's characters do not change much, despite dramatic life altering events. However, this fact supports the survival theme found thoughout the novel. Many times the main characters discuss human adaptation to adverse circumstances, as they themselves adapt to life's challenges. Although each character has moments during trials in which they do deviate from normalcy... after a few years or months they return to themselves. They are resiliantIt is a book with a survival theme that is not opressive or overly dark. Relationships servive both positive and negative twists and turns. (ex both poverty and wealth)I loved the emotional themes of the book. I loved the money versus poverty theme and the impact that poverty and illness had on the relationships of the characters. It could be argued that the protagonist of the novel was not larry but the relationships between the two couples which changed in both dramatic and subtle ways throughout the novel. I could go on and on about this novel, but I need to follow my own advice and just end this review.


I've been thinking the last few days (that's what Stegner does best--makes one think), what IS it about this novel that's so incredibly profound? Why does this fine piece of literature affect me on so many levels? It's curious because there's not necessarily a rich plot, hardly any action to speak of, or even a real stand-outish climax per se... just a beautifully written story with relatable characters living life and facing its challenges as they come. I believe Stegner's real gift is the way he uses his words so effectively. Every. Single. Page contains a word, a sentence, or a thought that's worth embracing. The thing about Stegner is the way he tells a story is very much theraputic. His books stay with you, you can't shake them, and at some level they actually change who you are...that is the power of language and that is profound, indeed.

Scott Axsom

Wallace Stegner’s “Crossing to Safety” is, at its roots, a novel about the simple heroism extant in the living of our daily lives but, at its highest reaches, it’s a comparison of two basic paradigms upon which we may choose to build those lives; the safety of convention or the pursuit of a calling. The story follows the lives of couples Sid and Charity, Larry and Sally through some thirty years of deepening friendship while exploring the place that creativity holds in our existence. Throughout, Stegner specifically contrasts the worldviews of Charity and Larry but, ultimately, “Crossing to Safety” is a book about the fineness of those contrasts.Late in the book, Larry is recalling an art-filled time they all shared in Italy and, in particular, a discussion between the four of them regarding an image of Christ that they found hauntingly unique. Three of them are deeply moved by the artist’s representation of Christ during the resurrection as pained and disoriented, but Charity finds it offensive and exploitative. Larry, as narrator, comments to the reader that Charity was “still developing her sundial theory of art, which would count no hours but the sunny ones.” This sums up the essence of Charity and, in fact, the essence of Stegner’s exploration in ‘Crossing to Safety”.Charity is so afraid of the dark side of life that she endeavors to control every aspect of it. This temptation is one we all recognize and, like every one who has ever grappled with the hope of controlling life's providential whims, she is ultimately shown the folly of her quest. Similar to Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, Stegner’s Charity Lang wages an ongoing battle against the currents of caprice and is ultimately broken by the fight. Indeed, in fiction, as in life, there can be no other outcome.Stegner implies the question throughout the work; Can great art really derive from simple lives? He answers that question definitively and affirmatively with this, his last novel. “Crossing to Safety” examines the themes of persistence, intransigence, compromise, reconciliation and, ultimately, awakening and resurrection, each in enlightening detail. As an exploration of the simple heroism inherent in our undertaking of life and all its nuanced battles, “Crossing to Safety” is a beautifully plain, yet infinitely complex piece - so much like life itself. Sadly, this was the final, masterful contribution of this great American writer.


Crossing to Safety is a beautiful novel. It has an unassuming, quiet appeal that resides in its verbal felicity and its thoughtful definition of the worthy life. It celebrates the best of friendship marked by an expansive magnanimity under which folks unrelated to each other may dwell secure. The Langs and Morgans, two young couples, met at the beginning of their academic careers in Madison, Wisconsin, during the Great Depression and became firm friends. The Langs were well connected and lived in Gatsby-like opulence; in contrast, the Morgans came from nondescript backgrounds and were poor. Yet, they were drawn together by a powerful kindred spirit. Their lifelong closeness testified that “a cord of three strands” (in this case, four) “is not easily broken”. The story traced the personal triumphs of the two families, their heartaches, failures, and struggles with ill health. On a personal level, I identified with the portrait Stegner painted of the unhallowed and humbling life in academia. How maddeningly familiar "the squabble and scrabble for tenure" and the publish-or-perish peril! How precious then that Sid Lang and Larry Morgan, unwilling competitors in the English department, were able to take genuine pleasure in each other’s achievements. Sid and Larry each had his fair share of disappointments and rejection, albeit different. What hit home for me was Larry’s reflection that at the end of life, accomplishments, ephemeral like tinsel, mattered little.Stegner left me thinking about the basis of friendship and being thankful for the friends I have. As Terry Tempest Williams suggested in the Introduction, this novel compels us to examine our own relationships and to consider "what risks of the heart are worth taking". For the Langs and Morgans, what stood the test of time and overcame the bugs that sometimes gnawed at their relationship, was the authenticity of their friendship. Enduring friendship truly is a gift. Crossing to Safety is my first Stegner book and it is definitely not my last. I am thrilled to have stumbled on a writer whom I know in my bones will soon become one of my favorite authors.


This is a story about love, loss, but most of all friendship. Two couples meet early in their careers as professors at a college in Wisconsin, and a lifelong friendship between the foursome ensues. There are ups and downs, tensions and closeness, struggles and triumph, etc., over a period of decades. I thought it was an incredibly rich and soulful book, although parts of it I found a little plodding. Still--this was one of the richest books I've read in a long time. There is a lot of soul-searching, a lot of exploration of what friendship means, and a lot of development of complex characters. I found the character of Charity Lang the most interesting because she seemed the most complicated: abrasive, controlling, obsessive-compulsive, yet extremely warm, caring and generous. A lot of the story is about how the other 3 friends (and numerous other family members and friends) mold their lives around this extremely strong personality. This book will creep its way into your bones (in a good way!).


This is a beautifully constructed story of friendship and marriage. Two couples meet in an academic setting in Madison, Wisconsin in the 1930s. Their bond survives many decades through professional successes and failures, through marital discord, through severe illness, through raising families and numerous moves some at great distances. The characters are memorable and real and so well developed. Wallace Stegner certainly knows how to write a dominant female character and does it well.

Joachim Stoop

Deserves 5 stars, no rather 6...Too good to be true. Actually as perfect as a novel can be: think Stoner but more poetic, McEwan and Yates yet more epic, Franzen with even more depth. But so fresh, christal clear and beautiful. And what a sparkling atmosphere! It's the best book (under 400 pages) I've ever read. Do you know the feeling that you read the first sentence of a book and you just hope the writer will keep that quality? That after the opening scene you almost prey that he or she will hold on without losing focus or brilliance? After 100 pages you cannot believe you're still marking descriptions and metaphores with your pencil. And when you turn to the last page you can't believe the ending is as pefect as the first phrase. I don't encounter many of such experiences. It makes me want to buy a thousand copies and give them randomly to friends and strangers and leave some in trains and plains. I even think that the world would be a better place if this was the bible, koran or other religious book - conquering the world with it's wisdom, beauty and humanity. This book is why I read. This is my reward for scrolling down all these lists on the internet. Not convinced yet? I'll send you one of my thousand copies ;-)

switterbug (Betsey)

Conservationist, scholar, Pulitzer Prize winner, and humanist Wallace Stegner came from poor, abject beginnings in Iowa. His father was abusive to young Wallace, his mother helpless to stop it. Through determination and perseverance, Stegner built a successful scholarly life out of the wreckage of his childhood. It's no small wonder that his writing is generous, compassionate, and reflective. This is my first journey into Stegner's oeuvre, a man of letters who has been respected by scholars and literature lovers since the latter mid-twentieth century.This quiet but penetrating story takes place primarily in Wisconsin and northern Vermont, during The Great Depression. Two young couples meet at a college in Madison circa 1937. The husbands teach liberal arts courses, the wives are simultaneously pregnant, and the four become instant and everlasting friends. Sally and Larry Morgan came by way of New Mexico and lack an Ivy League pedigree. Syd and Charity Lang have the eastern branding and wealthy background.As the reader, we bear witness to the contrasts and complexities of their friendship, the triumphs and blows to their ambitions and private lives, and the demands of an academic career. No melodrama or sensational action takes place; the careful composition of character and amplification of story is done with subtle and contoured development. Syd, Charity, Larry, and Sally gradually felt like dear, close friends.The prose style took some adjusting. It is a tad old-fashioned and heavy on the adverbs. However, after a few chapters, it didn't seem to matter; the awkward passages melt into the dignified beauty of the story. You can hear the crackle of a leaf underfoot on a brisk autumn night, feel the frost in a wintry afternoon, see the bright blue of a spotless summer sky. The contemplative characters, their destinies and tensions, dwell gradually in the reader's heart. If you are looking for a tasteful, subdued and quintessentially American novel, search no further. Unwind in a quiet corner near a window, brew some hot, fragrant tea and settle in with this refined and evocative story.


What a great read. Stegner's writing tells a beautiful story of friendship, marriage and family. True friendship is equal to, if not a stronger bond than family. I cannot put into words how beautifully he describes/informs the reader of the insides of the two marriages of the main characters ( Lang and Morgan). There is a saying that no one can know what goes on in a marriage except the two who are in it. Stegner does, and does it incredibly well in this book. A must read for those of us who love character studies. It is just beautifully written.

Mary Mason

This book was my introduction to Wallace Stegner. Since then, I have read all of his novels with the expception of his first, Lucky Star (I think). I am forever grateful to the women of the Reading Group I was then a member of for bringing me to Mr. Stegner, one of the finest writers I've read.A wonderful story of friendship and the power and suprises it can bring you. Stegner's amazing ability to present things in new ways never disappoints me. I was quite surprised by the twists at the end that changes almost everything that preceded it; it made you want to read it again immediately to see if you could/should have interpreted events and characters in a different way than you did the first time around. Although, maybe others would have a more insightful mind than mine is and discerned the truth of things to a greater degree.All the same, it was a wonderful, satisfying story of people who loved each other in the most basic ways.


This is a novel about academia, about illness, about upward mobility. But most of all it is a novel about the rich inner lives of two married couples. Unfortunately, Wallace Stegner seems completely unaware that women have rich inner lives. As a bonus, the narrator discusses his wife's disability using language straight out of How Not To Write About Disability 101. The women in this book, Sally and Charity, are written in two dimensions. While the challenges the men face – Larry needs more money and job security; Sid is henpecked and wants to write poems instead of scholarly papers; each man gets his own sick wife – make them Interesting, the challenges the women face make them beatific (Sally gets polio!) or shrill (Charity bosses people around on her deathbed!). Stegner puts one word next to the other in truly beautiful ways. But so very many people know how to do that. Ultimately I'd rather read a book with no women characters than read one that so pointlessly erases the vivid experiences its women characters deserve to have.


The stars I gave this book are for the writing quality. It is very good writing. The author was very good at metaphor, and a carrying the metaphor throughout the book. I also like his blunt analogies.The author paints a picture by jumping from present to past, to not-so-far in the past, back to the further-back past, back to the present, etc. It's kind of interesting. I'm not sure I like it, but I guess I don't hate it either. The story itself, was kind of boring. I'm not even sure what the book is about, exactly. Yes, it's about the relationships of two couples, but nothing really happens in the book. Even at the end. The book doesn't really have an ending, and only has a very limited amount of resolution. The resolution that is there only resolves an issue that was brought up in the last chapter. There were also a few pieces of the story that were left out or never explained. I suppose the author did it on purpose but I couldn't figure out his reason.

Paul Lima

Wow. Just wow. Although the book slowed down a bit for me in the last half, Stegner is an amazing writer. I tend to like books with meaty plots, and I think it's fair to say this book has all but no plot at all, yet the first third of the book was as much a page turner as any other book I've read. I couldn't put it down. In fact, when I got to the end of the first section, I went back to read the opening chapter to see how he had set everything up -- even though there is no plot. If you are a writer, read this book. If you are an academic, read this book. If you are in a relationship, read this book. If you are a woman or a man, read this book! Loved it.

Jan C

This was my first Wallace Stegner book (other than my high school English Composition book). I kind of picked it up by accident. But I just loved it. I read it in one afternoon. I just couldn't put it down. Much of it took place in a college town - that's mainly where Stegner had lived throughout his life. And I could identify with that, having lived in college towns both as a student and a resident.And I suppose it reminded me of some of the people I have known. People who are such good friends that they go on vacations together. I just really enjoyed it - both the highs and the lows. I liked it so much I gave a copy as a gift.

Will Byrnes

** spoiler alert ** 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. 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.

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