Crossing to Safety

20 October 2013
Written by Diana Kenny
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Tracing the lives, loves and aspirations of two couples,  Diana's book this month gives a gentle insight into the powerful alchemy of friendship and marriage

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Crossing to Safety was our book club book last month and I loved it. Wallace Stegner is an American author I have never come across before. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for Angel of Repose and the US National Book Award in 1977 for The Spectator Bird.

Crossing to Safety was written in 1987, six years before his death in 1993 aged 84, and is described as a semi-autobiographical novel. Perhaps it is because I am of an age where I can look a long way back, that I can appreciate what he has achieved with this book.

This is a simple quiet story of two couples, their ups and downs, struggles and triumphs and the friendship that remained with them throughout their lives.

The novel is narrated by Larry Morgan, who with his wife Sally moves to Madison, at the start of his teaching career in the university’s English Department.  It is 1937, during the Great Depression, and he has tenure for only a year.  Almost immediately they become acquainted with another couple, Sid and Charity Lang.  The Morgans have little money and are expecting their first child. The Langs have money to spare and Charity is expecting her third child; there is an instant rapport between them.

Sid has ambitions of becoming a writer whereas Larry out of necessity writes and is successful. Sid has a genuine pleasure in his friend’s achievements and in secret writes his poetry. The wives are completely different - Sally the home maker and Charity the organiser - yet their friendship is just as deep.

The Langs have a hideaway, an idyllic Kennedy-like compound to where they and their friends retreat over the summer, to read, listen to music, ride, sail and swim.  It is there that the friendship deepens and flourishes. It is there that the Morgans are summoned after some years of only intermittent contact as Charity organises her last gathering.

This is a beautifully written book about acceptance.  Acceptance of different personalities, foibles, upsets, misunderstandings and learning to be acquiescent of whatever life throws your way and just getting on with it.  There is no sex, no violence, no shocks or scandals just a quiet novel about friendship, yet I could not put it down.

Stegner, or anyone, could write a novel such as this only towards the end of their life.  It is reflective and loving and set me to thinking about the friendships my husband and I have made over a married life of almost 50 years.  Some have slipped by the wayside, but thankfully many are still intact though in some cases only one partner is left.  We too have nourished each other, been there for each other, shared laughter and sad times and our lives have been all the richer for it.


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