Review: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Crossing to Safety, by the late Wallace Stegner, is an eloquent novel that explores the complicated nature of long term friendship. The Langs (Sid and Charity) and the Morgans (Larry and Sally) meet and embark on a 40 year friendship that is sustained through births, illnesses, job loss, cross country moves, career success, envy, generosity, thwarted ambition, and failure.

The story is told from the perspective of Larry Morgan, who, of the two men, is the more accomplished author, but the less financially stable. The couples meet when Larry and Sid, working together at a Wisconsin university, attend a party with their wives. The wives, both pregnant and due around the same time, are immediately taken with each other. The husbands also have much in common and have great respect for each other. The relationship of the foursome deepens over time and becomes more like family than merely friendly.

Crossing to Safety is honest and human. It unfolds slowly, meandering through reminiscences and meditations on what it means to be a writer, the power of friendship, the depths of love and marriage, and the realization that even your closest friends and loved ones are ultimately unknowable. No one, not even a very close friend, can ever know what truly goes on inside another person’s marriage.

The novel has at least three covers. The one I bought looks like this: 13777373.jpg

but I like this one so much better: 9780141188010l.jpg

It captures the mood of the book more accurately. Then there is this one, which I don’t care for at all:


The title of the book comes from the following quote by Robert Frost:

“I could give all to Time except-except

What I myself have held. But why declare

The things forbidden that while the Customs slept

I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There

And what I would not part with I have kept.”

I’m not a poet and I’m not sure how to analyze that, but I think crossing to safety as stated here refers to what remains of a relationship after it is over, after death. If anyone can enlighten me on this, I would appreciate it.

Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972. Crossing to Safety was Stegner’s final novel before his death in 1993.

I enjoyed Crossing to Safety. It is a quiet novel with no great dramatic action, no affairs between the couples or big plot twists. It is simply an extremely well-written, mature and beautiful tribute to enduring friendship.

10 Responses

  1. Amen! I loved this book, as you must have noted when reading my review. Unfortunately, I bought a copy with the lame cover (it was only fifty-cents at a library book sale) but I’m the sort to covet better covers and wish that I had sprung for a $14 copy, radiant in its outward beauty.

    A lovely review, and I highly highly recommend Angle of Repose. It’s also very good, though in a slightly different way..

  2. Do you know if the covers are marketed to specific groups?

  3. Great review – and it’s fun to come across a book that isn’t ‘hot’! on the best NOW lists… Maybe you can spur a resurgence of popularity! I will add W. Stegner to my must-read author list.

  4. The different covers are fascinating, aren’t they?

  5. Thanks for the review. I tried reading this in high school and did not like it…it’s time to give it another try!

  6. I’m starting to get very curious about Wallace Stegner. Thanks for the review.

  7. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Thea, thanks for the recommendation. I’ve added it to my long wishlist. Beastmomma, I have no idea how the covers are marketed. It would be interesting to find out. I know that different covers are used on books overseas, so maybe one of those is the UK version (maybe the ugly brown one?). Care, I discovered this book in another book, The Book CLub Companion (which I highly recommend to anyone in a book club). Mr. Schu, I think I would have been bored silly with this book in high school. You have to be old enough to appreciate it. What is old enough? Maybe.. um… 30? 35? Someone with a little more perspective on life than a teenager. Bybee, welcome to my blog. I haven’t seen you around before, but I hope to see you again! Glad I could spark some curiousity.

  8. […] Review: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner […]

  9. […] books jumping out at you everywhere.  Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (reviewed HERE) was a memorable commentary on lifelong friendship and marriage. […]

  10. Yes, it is a poem about after-death. And I read that Stegner and Frost were friends! Would have loved sitting in on a few of their evenings together. I simply adore Crossing to Safety with all my heart. It was my favorite novel for a decade. Since, then, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier and Wild Life by Molly Gloss.

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