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on 18 May 2015
Stegner, Wallace. Crossing to Safety

Wallace Stegner tells the story of four friends, Larry and Sally Morgan and Sid and Charity Lang, who meet as new faculty members at Madison, Wisconsin. Sid and Charity are rich, while Larry and Sally are poor, but this disparity is soon forgotten as the Langs throw a party for all new members, at which performances are obligatory. The Langs proceed to adopt their poor relations, finding them intellectually stimulating and congenial. After a year, however, Larry is terminated despite his having published articles and a book, while, owing to the financial squeeze of the Depression, Sid is retained for just one more year. Early on it is established that Charity Lang is the leader of social and cultural events, insisting on the Morgans occupying their house over the summer vacation. Charity has plans, for everyone including the Morgans their ‘adoptive’ family and their new-born daughter, Lang Morgan.
Mostly the tone is reminiscential, as Larry recalls the glorious summer in Arcady before he became an editor for Uncle Richard in Albuquerque, a post in which he more than doubled his university salary. He has even managed to repay the Langs after several years, during which time both women have physically deteriorated - Charity, now a mulltiple mum, being stricken with cancer, Sally crippled with polio. But the parties continue, now with swarms of kids attached, as does Charity’s determination to divert her husband’s efforts from writing poetry into recognised scholarship.

I was thankful to find no happy ending, no tacked on or hopeful last episode - except for the symbolic survival of a presumed drowned mouse. As Larry says, ‘You can’t be close to the mortality of friends without being brought to think of your own.’ I felt that I had understood Larry and rooted for him in his battles with the redoubtable Charity, a finely drawn character whom I’d go a mile to avoid.
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on 10 February 2015
I have not finished the book yet but I am enjoying it very much as it is beautifully written.
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on 24 March 2017
Another book club read -and the first time I'd heard of this author let alone read one of his books. I found it well written and involving despite the focus on individuals rather than world events. I would certainly look to read more by Stegner and was surprised to hear that people found it difficult to finish. As with all such choices I read the book before looking at-or publishing - a review. Should be an interesting discussion in a week or two's time
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on 25 May 2016
After a lyrical start with fine landscape descriptions, this novel became a hard read for me until I got to the middle. My problem was that I could not admire the hyperactive, controlling character Charity and her hectic hospitality. The narrator (and hence author) seemed to expect a complete acceptance of her, warts and all. Also, in parts of the novel (including the ill-judged Florentine episode) there was an almost offensive smugness about social mores and intellectual interests. From the middle onwards there was at long last overt acknowledgment of Charity's failings, but I did not find the analysis of what glued her marriage to Sid together convincing. His pliability and limited talent did not seem enough explanation of why he submitted to her unrealistic ambitions for him as an academic and to her domestic demands on him. Perhaps the answer is that when fate stepped in and he lost his teaching post, she spent two months in a mental hospital — a vulnerability which he perhaps foresaw.. However, the novel touches on various interesting themes such as the value or otherwise of writing or teaching poetry, the stress of caring for a disabled spouse or being disabled oneself, attitudes to terminal illness. All things considered, an interesting book.
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on 13 June 1998
A wonderful reading experience, especially since this is the first Wallace Stegner book I have read. I am now driven to read "Angle of Repose" and "The Sound of Mountain Water", and perhaps other works of his in the future. The prose is beautiful in its fluidity and richness of details, save maybe for Stegner's skewed characterization of Charity over Sally. Personally, I would not like to meet a character like Charity, and I do not understand how a reasonably strong character like Sid would put up with her, unless, of course, he is attracted to exceedingly cosmopolitan and worldly---not to mention annoyingly feisty and obsessive-compulsive---types like Charity. The last part was a little slow, and I was somehow expecting that Larry would find Sid in that "edenic pool" that seemed like their (the two couples') best-kept secret from their long-ago hike in the woods. I would think that that might be an appropriate symbol of Sid's reconnecting with his persona without Charity's incessant controlling and smothering manipulation---that it was never too late to find himself and feel free again. I know it sounds selfish, but , inasmuch as their friendships seemed so perfect and ideal, Charity's dominant personality and self-righteousness spelled like a potential omen to their entire relationship. Moderation and the tenets of civility ruled over the book, however, and I was nonetheless captivated by it.
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Crossing to Safety is a remarkably beautiful book backed up by a tender, stern intelligence. It's one to be savoured. It is rare to ever feel so connected to characters on the page, to feel you know them so completely, that they could genuinely be picked straight out of life at the time. I loved it. Both couples' journey from youth to late-middle age is examined with a wonderful human eye, seeing all the details that make such people truly human. The interplay and the tensions between all four players are subtle and fascinating. Crossing to Safety is a book I recommend wholeheartedly. It's to treasure.
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on 10 April 1999
Even though this novel had such fine print in the "Great Reads" hardcover edition, and was consequently hard to read, I give it a good rating. I must admit that the only reason I finished it was because it was chosen for my book club. We did however have one of our most in-depth discussions ever that night. The characters and situations are so real and touching, even if you don't like the book, you have to admit, there are these redeemable qualities. Poor Sid married to the extemely ambitious and overbearing Charity. (Even though every one of us could relate to her controlling nature!) Sid does say that he loves her and couldn't imagine his life without her. But would he have been more if he was not married to her? Would he have been able to persue his dream of being a poet? Or did his father already shame him from persuing this path? And the way Charity shut him out at the end, I positively found apalling!! Would I recommend it? Yes. It does remind my of my high school and college literature classes, however--kind of a James Joycey stream-of-consciousness thing going on. It is a bit heavy. However, it is very beautifully and artistically written. Yes, I would recommend it.
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on 31 July 1999
This is the book my wife and I fell in love with after we fell in love with each other more than 12 years ago. Whenever we talk with friends about favorite books, we INSIST that they read Crossing to Safety. We've had to buy several copies over the years because we keep lending copies out -- and we can't blame any of our friends for not returning this book. It's a keeper. Wallace Stegner said this novel was the closest he came to writing autobiographically, which explains a certain brightness not found in, say, Angle of Repose (although AOR is an equally beautiful story).
This is simply a beautifully told story about how a friendship formed and aged, so powerfully written that you will come to appreciate your own friends -- and how you came to be friends -- all the more for having made the journey with the couples in Crossing to Safety. This is a book you fall in love with and return to. I'm actually online right now to buy another copy.
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on 31 January 2010
Realised that I was reading slower and slower because I didn't want this book to end, and now that I've finished I want to go back - wind back the years - and start again. Wallace Stegner is a breathtakingly good writer and this novel, written towards the end of his long life, has the wisdom of old age - and yet retains memories of all the freshness of youth and hope.
'If we could have foreseen the future during those good years in Madison where all this began, we might not have had the nerve to venture into it ...' This book is about Life, I know that sounds corny but I can't think how else to put it. It is about two young couples and all that life throws at them. It will make you think about your own life and friendships and love and loyalty.
'Leave a mark on the world. Instead the world has left marks on us ...' Probably not a book to read when you're young - if I'd read this in my 20s, even my 30s, I don't think I'd have got it - but for the middleaged and slightly battered, a profoundly emotional read. One of those rare, unforgettable books that become part of what you are. (And the descriptions of New England landscapes are like a garden of Eden.)
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on 19 December 2013
With little in the way of an actual story, you'd expect at least to find the characters sympathetic and the descriptions absorbing... and maybe there'd be a a bit of drama or at least tension. None of that. I tried and tried but gave up about two-thirds of the way through. Easily the least satisfying of the thirty or so novels I've read this year. My difficulty is grasping why everyone else seems to like it so much.
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