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Accentuating the Positive
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.