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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 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 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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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 February 2015
This novel is so beautifully written I actually copied out some passages just so I could come back and admire them.

Choose this book if you enjoy fine observation of realistic characters, reflection rather than events. You don't need to know what it's about, though you have probably seen a summary saying it's about the relationship between two couples. That doesn't matter. What matters is the way he writes about them. When the couples are about to meet for the first time, the narrator rings the doorbell and devotes half a page of discussion to the meaning of pressing the button. The meeting itself generates a longer essay. It is almost as reflective as Proust and indeed early in the book the narrator says he is going for a walk to do a little recherche du temps perdu. If you like the reflective style (of the two dramatic events in the book, one is described with more reflection than drama and the other he actually skips with the cheeky comment that this isn't an adventure novel) you will find it here in its finest style. To give a good feel for it would make this review overly long but here is a tiny bit from the meeting I mentioned above:

"We wandered into their orderly Newtonian universe a couple of asteroids and they captured us with their gravitational pull and made moons of us and fixed us in orbit around themselves... We felt their friendship as freezing travellers felt a dry room and a fire."

It's a fine novel. If you are deciding whether to get the audio or the text version, I recommend text. The audio isn't, in my view, well read.

Finally, my favourite passage, in case you happen to remember, is the internal debate about upward mobility (beginning of part 2 chapter 4).
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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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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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on 18 December 2013
While Crossing to Safety is sprinkled with many bits of quality writing, I really did not like this novel. It is the story of the long-term relationship between two couples, which is frankly a boring story, and the problem is that it is not told in a way that makes it any less dull. I fully agree with the view expressed by another reviewer that the most significant flaw in this book (which is fundamental) is that the author transparently tells the reader his intended messages through the words of the characters with no subtlety rather than conveying the messages through a story. I have just started another novel where in the introduction it is stated about this other novel: "It tells us nothing more than what we need to know, and then it stands back, trusting the intelligence of the reader to flesh out the rest". This is the opposite approach from that taken in Crossing to Safety.

While I found the start of the story enjoyable enough, it became increasingly painful to read, in part because of the manipulative character development. The four main characters are intended to be impressive (with repeated overt signs of how sophisticated and cultured they are) but to me each of them came across as annoying and unlikeable. The characters constantly heap praise and adulation on each other, referring to each other as "wonderful", "brilliant", "amazing", etc. , while at the same time each acts modest by pointing out that he/she has flaws. In addition, throughout the book there is an awkward and pretentious overuse of name-dropping of authors and literary references.

I persevered through Crossing to Safety and didn't think it could get any worse until I had to endure an unbearable chapter near the end about the two couples' extended holiday in Italy, including a description of the art they saw at museums and the charming locals they met. What a bore.

Overall, while I appreciate that many others have enjoyed this book and that it is critically acclaimed, for the reasons mentioned above I would not recommend it and do not believe that it warrants characterisation as a modern classic.
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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 14 January 2014
Would have been better if written as a diary. Long winded account of everyday events in a group of peoples lives. Would have

given up but still struggling to complete as it is the choice of my bookclub.
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