Crossing to Safety (Stegner)

Crossing to Safety
Wallace Stegner, 1987
Random House
368 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780375759314

Called a “magnificently crafted story...brimming with wisdom” by Howard Frank Mosher in the Washington Post Book World, Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio 
Birth—February 18, 1909
Where—Lake Mills, Iowa
Death—April 13, 1993
Where—Santa Fe, New Mexico
Education—B.A., University of Utah; Ph. D., State University 
  of Iowa
Awards—Pulitzer Prize, 1972; National Book Award for, 1977

Some call Wallace Stegner "The Dean of Western Writers." He was born in Lake Mills, Iowa and grew up in Great Falls, Montana, Salt Lake City, Utah and southern Saskatchewan, which he wrote about in his autobiography Wolf Willow. Stegner says he "lived in twenty places in eight states and Canada." While living in Utah, he joined a Boy Scout troop at a Mormon church (though he was not Mormon but Presbyterian himself) and earned the Eagle Scout award.

He received his B.A. at the University of Utah in 1930. He taught at the University of Wisconsin and Harvard University, and then he settled in at Stanford University, where he founded the creative writing program. His students included Sandra Day O'Connor, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Thomas McGuane, Ken Kesey, Gordon Lish, Ernest Gaines, and Larry McMurtry.

He served as a special assistant to Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. He was elected to the Sierra Club board of directors for a term that lasted 1964—1966. He also moved into a house in nearby Los Altos Hills and became one of the town's most prominent residents.

Stegner's novel Angle of Repose won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972, and was directly based on the letters of Mary Hallock Foote (later published as the memoir A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West). Stegner's use of uncredited passages taken directly from Foote's letters caused a minor controversy. Stegner also won the National Book Award for The Spectator Bird in 1977. In the late 1980s, he refused a National Medal from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1992 because he believed the NEA had become too politicized. Crossing to Safety was published in 1987.

He died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, while visiting the city to give a lecture. His death was the result of injuries suffered in an automobile accident on March 28, 1993. He is the father of nature writer Page Stegner. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews 
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. His characters burrow into your heart, and Stegner's prose, as one critic put it, is "prismatic, lush and painterly." Don't miss this one.
A LitLovers LitPick  (March '06)

Adding to a distinguished body of work that already has earned him a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Awardand on the 50th anniversary of the publication of his first novel, Stegner's new book is an eloquent, wise and immensely moving narrative. It is a meditation on the idealism and spirit of youth, when the world is full of promise, and on the blows and compromises life inevitably inflicts. Two couples meet during the Depression years in Madison, Wis., and become devoted friends despite vast differences in upbringing and social status. Hard work, hope and the will to succeed as a writer motivate the penurious narrator Larry Morgan and his wife Sally as he begins a term teaching at the university. Equally excited by their opportunities are Sid Lang, another junior man in the English department, and his wife Charity. They are fortune's children, favored with intelligence, breeding and money. Taken into the Langs' nourishing and generous embrace, the Morgans have many reasons for gratitude over the years, especially when Sally is afflicted with polio and the Langs provide financial as well as moral support. During visits at the Langs' summer home on Battell Pond in Vermont and later sharing a year in Florence, the couples feel that they are "four in Eden." Yet the Morgans observe the stresses in their friends' marriage as headstrong, insufferably well-organized Charity tries to bully the passive Sid into a more aggressive mold. Charity is one of the most vivid characters in fiction; if she is arrogant, she is also kindhearted, enthusiastic, stalwart and brave—an ardent liver of life. Her incandescent personality is both the dominant force and the source of strain in the enduring friendship Stegner conveys with brilliant artistry. He is also superb at expressing a sense of place, and his intelligent voice makes cogent observations on American society in the decades of his setting. But most importantly, he speaks to us of universal questions, reflecting on "the miserable failure of the law of nature to conform to the dream of man." In doing so, he has created a believable human drama the dimensions of which reach out beyond the story's end and resonate in the reader's heart.
Publishers Weekly

tStegner published his first novel 50 years ago. Since then he has won both a Pulitzer Prize (for Angle of Repose, 1971) and the National Book Award (for The Spectator Bird, 1976). His latest effort, an exploration into the mysteries of friendship, deserves similar accolades. With a quiet but strong hand, he traces the bond that develops between Charity and Sid Lang and Sally and Larry Morgan from their first meeting in 1937 through their eventual separation to their final get-together in 1972 when Charity is dying of cancer and is determined ``to do it right,'' no matter what anyone else thinks. It seems only appropriate that Charity bring them together since she has been the driving force behind the relationship. As we discover now, her bull-headedness has had its price. This is a wonderfully rich, warm, and affecting book. Highly recommended. —David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Library Journal

Discussion Questions 
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Crossing to Safety:

1. Given the difference between their upbringings (social class), what is the basis of friendship between these two couples? What does each couple gain from the friendship? Is it an equal or unequal relationship?

2. Talk about the nature of the two marriages, how they differ. The Langs' marriage seems to be the one most under the microscope here, the most complicated of the two marriages.

3. Then there's Charity—clearly the most complex character of the four. Do you like her, despise her? What drives her?

4. What are Charity's expectations of Sid? Does she desire academic status? Does she want him to realize his full potential or live up to his best self? What does she want from him?

5. Why does Sid stay with Charity? What do you think will happen to him after she dies? Will he choose to go on without her?

6. Stegner is very much a nature writer, using the natural beauty of Vermont as a sort of back drop to his human drama. In what way might he be making a comparison between the immutable natural world and mutable human world?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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