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:

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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.