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.
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 novelStegner'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 bravean 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. BOMC and QPBC alternates; Franklin Library Signed First Edition Society selection.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 08, 2002
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Excerpt from Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Floating upward through a confusion of dreams and memory, curving like a trout through the rings of previous risings, I surface. My eyes open. I am awake.
Cataract sufferers must see like this when the bandages are removed after the operation: every detail as sharp as if seen for the first time, yet familiar too, known from before the time of blindness, the remembered and the seen coalescing as in a stereoscope.
It is obviously very early. The light is no more than dusk that leaks past the edges of the blinds. But I see, or remember, or both, the uncurtained windows, the bare rafters, the board walls with nothing on them except a calendar that I think was here the last time we were, eight years ago.
What used to be aggressively spartan is shabby now. Nothing has been refreshed or added since Charity and Sid turned the compound over to the children. I should feel as if I were waking up in some Ma-and-Pa motel in hard-times country, but I don't. I have spent too many good days and nights in this cottage to be depressed by it.
There is even, as my eyes make better use of the dusk and I lift my head off the pillow to look around, something marvelously reassuring about the room, a warmth even in the gloom. Associations, probably, but also color. The unfinished pine of the walls and ceilings has mellowed, over the years, to a rich honey color, as if stained by the warmth of the people who built it into a shelter for their friends. I take it as an omen; and though I remind myself why we are here, I can't shake the sense of loved familiarity into which I just awoke.
The air is as familiar as the room. Standard summer-cottage taint of mice, plus a faint, not-unpleasant remembrance of skunks under the house, but around and through those a keenness as of seven thousand feet. Illusion, of course. What smells like altitude is latitude. Canada is only a dozen miles north, and the ice sheet that left its tracks all over this region has not gone for good, but only withdrawn. Something in the air, even in August, says it will be back.
In fact, if you could forget mortality, and that used to be easier here than in most places, you could really believe that time is circular, and not linear and progressive as our culture is bent on proving. 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. 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.