Crossing to Safety (Review)


Crossing to Safety
Wallace Stegner, 1987
368 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
March 2007

Like other famous authors who claimed to write small (Jane Austen's miniatures on "a little bit of ivory" and William Faulkner's "postage stamp" of native soil), Wallace Stegner says of Crossing to Safetythat he "was trying to make very small noises and to make them thoughtful."

He succeeded on both counts, creating an intimate, thoughtful portrait of friendship between two married couples over a 35-year span. It's a powerful tale.

Stegner isn't a household name, though he should be. He had a long and prolific career, writing more than 30 books: novels, story collections, and non-fiction. He won awards and taught his craft to writers better known than he. His best known work is Angle of Repose, which won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1972.

This novel delves into the friendship and marriages of the Morgans and Langs, who first meet as young academics during the Depression years. The book opens in 1972, in Vermont, where the Morgans have traveled to visit Charity Lang, now dying of cancer. Told as a series of flashbacks by Larry Morgan, the work ponders the nature of youthful expectations and goals unfulfilled, the dynamics of marriage, the power of personality, and dependence, all set against the evocative beauty of Vermont's natural landscape.

Charity and Sid's relationship is central to the story, and Charity becomes the book's most powerful figure, obsessive, domineering, even cruel, but also loving and generous. Sid suffers under her control. Or he seems to, which is the question left unanswered at the book's end: will he live without Charity?

This is such a beautiful book. The characters burrow into your heart, and Stegner's prose, as one critic put it, is "prismatic, lush and painterly." Don't miss this one.

See our Reading Guide for Crossing to Safety.

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