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Showing 1-10 of 482 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 680 reviews
on July 23, 2016
Stegner is already an eminence and he doesn't need my Amazon review to rest comfortably, but . . . this is one of those rare adult novels that deals tenderly and honestly with adult life -- the struggle for money and reputation, the shifting dynamics and tensions between two couples; how one recovers (if one does) from a major illness, how one faces death. It is a book for grownups, only because nineteen-year olds would have no idea of what the author describes, and how hard life is even for fairly privileged people in academia. I found it very moving and, as you can tell, difficult to describe. Early on in my reading, the characters were seriously real to me, so that I ached for them and felt attached to them. It's an outstanding book, but I fear it not flashy enough to warrant postmodern critical notice, although Stegner does shift both perspective and time. He creates a world -- no, several worlds.
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on August 5, 2015
Crossing to Safety is a delightfully nostalgic novel dealing with the trials and tribulations of two couples who discover one another and become lifelong friends. The characters are well drawn though not complex and whose behavior is eminently predictable. They are drawn together and we are treated to the development of their relationship over years. Since both male protagonists are professors of literature at the college level, their experiences may surprise many who believe that life to be simple and humdrum; in addition, we are treated to deep understanding of the pressures brought to bear by institution as well as family. There are many strong points worthy of discussion, but its climax alone makes the book a worthwhile read.
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on September 2, 2013
This book reminded me of a bell curve - I liked the middle, but not the beginning or the end. I thought the first chapter, which actually talks about the end of the story, was completely confusing. I couldn't tell where they were or why they were there. However, it did set the stage for the big suspenseful element in an otherwise character-driven story (how and when did Sally injure her legs?).

Following the first chapter, the story reverts to chronological order with how the Langs and Morgans meet at Wisconsin and are instantly drawn to each other. This part also begins the themes of friendship and relationship dynamics that drive the story. The Langs both come from a pressure-filled world of inherited wealth and the Morgans from more humble backgrounds where Larry's father told him to "do what you like to do. It'll probably turn out to be what you do best.". These different backgrounds will play a big part in the Morgans' and Langs' relationship dynamics throughout the book. You can also begin to see the power imbalance that characterizes the Langs' marriage and how that affects the dynamics between both couples.

"Part II" of the book focuses on the Morgans' long stay at Battell Pond, Charity's family's compound in Vermont. I loved this part of the book as it was all about the power of family (especially extended family that "swarmed like termites") and the closeness that can result from having a family gathering spot.

Finally, there is a section where both couples live in Florence, and it was my least favorite. It reads like the travel journal of someone who is obsessed with checking every possible historical site off his/her "to do" list. There's not much description about the places they visit and even less focus on the relationship dynamics, which are the truly interesting part of this book.

The ending is fitting given the relationship dynamics at play, but I was getting bored of it all by that point and just wanted to be finished with the book.

Despite liking some things about Crossing to Safety (the middle of the story and Stegner's writing style, even though it was a bit more pretentious than the simple writing I'm usually drawn to), they just weren't enough to recommend reading it.

For more reviews, check out my blog, Sarah's Book Shelves.
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on October 3, 2013
This book opens with “Floating through a confusion of dreams and memory, curving like a trout through the rings of previous risings, I surface.” And so Wallace Stegner begins a breath-taking book with a poetic and significant first line. Stegner’s title for his book Crossing to Safety comes from the Robert Frost poem “I Could Give All to Time” in which the poet ruminates about saving from the ravages of time that which is essential. In this case, Larry Morgan, the narrator of the novel, surfaces from sleep to contemplate a series of incidents that center on his and his wife’s friendship with Sid and Charity Lang. In each chapter of the book, the reader is left to marvel at the difficulties and life-enriching experiences that accompany thirty years of friendship.
During these years, Larry and Sid struggle with Academia that is somewhat reminiscent of today’s universities but not totally. The novel begins when Larry takes his first professorship at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It is the Great Depression and Larry is lucky to have landed a position. He and Sally live on $2,000 a year, which makes “Publish or Perish” takes on a different meaning. Larry says: “In a way, it is beautiful to be young and hard-up. With the right wife, and I had her, deprivation becomes a game.” They worry about paying grocery bills and rent, but are happy. Larry writes short stories and novels to live. Sid and Charity have family money, which allows them to live comfortably, but Sid does not have Larry’s talent. The two men must struggle to receive tenure and survive as professors. The couples lean on each other as job losses and financial complications follow them through their years of friendship.
I am not sure this book could be written today. Our lives and moral values have changed. Our literature has changed. This book written in 1987 is a quiet, intimate look at people of another era. Intimacy, not of a sexual nature but of personality and human dependency, is deeply explored. The settings are carefully depicted to enhance to poignancy of Larry’s memories. Read slowly and deliberately, this book is a pure delight.
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on January 11, 2017
The narrator says it is hard to write about good people. An author cannot fall back on sex, violence and drama when writing about good people who live quiet lives. But, Stegner succeeds in describing the lives of two couples, close friends who help each other cope with the Depression and with good luck and bad luck. His description of summers in Vermont in the 1930's is accurate. I was a child there then and I remember it.
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on April 23, 2015
He's known for his dedication in writing about the preservation of the West of the United States, but my introduction to him came from reading his novel, Crossing to Safety. I've already ordered his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Angle of Repose because I'm enamored of this gentle man's prose and honesty in the telling of a compelling story. Isn't that the standard to which all authors should aspire? I know it's what I wish for myself.

From the very beginning, he drew me into his story as the narrator, Larry, and his wife, Sally awaken in a cabin in the woods of Vermont in 1972. There's to be a meeting of some significance between their old friends, Sid and Charity, who own the property where they now find themselves.

From there, Stegner takes the reader on a journey back to the 1930s during the dark days of Depression when the two couples meet in Madison, both as young and eager professors and their wives, at the University of Wisconsin. The plot may not be filled with dark twists and turns. It doesn't matter. The characters come alive under the lively pen of the author. Charity in particular fills the pages and overflows onto the margins and binding of the book. Her speech and her actions show us in absolute clarity that she is the queen--sometimes overbearing, but always with a heart firmly in front--of this foursome. Here's Stegner first description of Charity when he steps into his small basement apartment:

"In the dim apartment she blazed. Her hair was drawn back in a bun, as if to clear her face for expression, and everything in the face smiled--lips, teeth, cheeks, eyes."

Charity lives beyond this first impression. Sid, her husband, pales in comparison, except when Stegner describes his physicality, which resembles that of an ancient Greek god. Larry, the narrator, provides us the view of everyone else, although he remains an enigma through most of the novel. However, it is always clear his opinion of his best friend, Sid, and his controlling, yet caring, wife Charity. Perhaps it is Larry's love of his wife Sally that tells the reader the most of his character. Sally, a victim of the vicious polio, remains the stalwart and force behind Larry despite her challenges. She's my hero of the novel much more so than the dominant Charity.

Characterization stands as one of the most important aspects of literary fiction because without it the reader has no reason to continue reading, no glue to keep them stuck to the plot. However, the descriptive prose of Stegner kept me attached to the story as much as the compelling characters. His love of nature shines through the story. At times, I stopped reading just to absorb the beauty and clarity of his descriptions, as shown in this description of the Vermont woods, as Larry, Sid, and their pack-horse Wizard make their way to a camp on their first day of a week-long hike.

"Dust has whitened the ferns along the roadside, gypsy moths have built their tents in the chokecherry bushes, the meadow on the left is yellow with goldenrod, ice-blue with asters, stalky with mullein, rough with young spruce. Everything taller than the grass is snagged with the white fluff of milkweed. On the other side is a level hayfield, green from a second cutting. The woods at the far edge rise in a solid wall. In the yard of an empty farmhouse we sample apples off a gnarled tree. Worms in every one. But Wizard finds them refreshing, and blubbers cider as he walks."

This example shows that descriptive prose need be neither showy or pushy to paint a portrait for the reader. In its simplicity, I floated above the scene taking in every detail, including the foam sputtering from the mouth of Wizard.

I am a fan left wondering how I missed reading Wallace Stegner before now. In his sixty-year career, he wrote thirty books, both fiction and nonfiction. Edward Abbey claimed, before Stegner's death in 1993, that he was "the only living American writer worthy of the Nobel." He never received the honor, but he does receive my highest praise for achieving what I only aspire to do as an environmental author of outstanding fiction.
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on March 30, 2016
The story begins in 1938 and ends in August, 1972. It’s narrated by Larry Morgan, a novelist and academic. In 1938, Larry and his wife Sally, of modest means and low on the academic totem pole, meet Sid and Charity, also low on the academic totem pole but from backgrounds of immense wealth. The couples quickly become close friends and remain so until the story’s end. Through Larry’s eyes, we follow the birth of children, academic careers, literary success and failure, illness, recovery, and death.

Although the narrator is usually the most important character in a novel, in this case, the reader soon figures out that while Larry Morgan is telling this story, it ultimately belongs to Charity – much like Nick Caraway tells Gatsby’s story in The Great Gatsby. And like Gatsby, Charity is larger than life. She is epic. Iconic. Driven. Difficult to understand. Awe inspiring, in her way. And at the end, the reader is left a bit shaken and full of questions. What does “crossing to safety” mean? Who has managed to do it? How have they managed to do it?

Written in really lovely prose, the joy of the book is as much in the language as the action. It’s a sensitive, imaginative look at American academia over thirty years, an examination of gender roles, a depiction of mid-century American values, and an interesting slice of American history.
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on December 7, 2014
Halfway through the book Stegner asks this question: "How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these" You start by building unforgettable characters and describing them, the landscape and the time beautifully. I am unable to describe what exactly makes a great writer but as a reader, as the old saying about art, I know it when I see it. The only thing that frustrated me a bit was the references to literature with which I was not familiar. At first I thought this might be an affectation but it more likely that he is much more literate than I. A wonderful read and highly recommended.
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on January 21, 2017
Compelling story of the intertwined lives of two couples who meet as young marrieds. The tale goes through the relationships of the original four, with children, co-workers, family and friends added into the mix. The story goes through ups and downs of jobs, illnesses, vacations, and puts the reader like "a fly on the wall", seeing all of it. There is an element of pathos as well, possibly reflecting the author's personal life experiences.

The imagery is brilliant in places, and the characters are real. You like parts of them, but not all of them- realistically presented. The humanity is presented as equally fragile and durable, making for excellent- but NOT lighthearted reading.
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on November 18, 2010
Right away I am seduced by the prose. That first Stegner page about waking up is absolutely superb. "Floating upward through a confusion of dreams and memory, curving like a trout through the rings of previous risings, I surface. My eyes open. I am awake."

These first sentences could be cut into lines and begin a beautiful poem. Here, they serve as a marvelous synopsis of the novel. For it is very much a novel of awakenings. Psychological awakenings. And ironically, some of these awakenings are about dying and what death means to the survivors. For after someone we love passes away we die a little, and we must learn to live again, as opposed to floating "through a confusion of dreams and memory." Our eyes must open again. We must wake up.

And that is how Stegner's Crossing to Safety engages the reader. There is no murder, no explosion, no illicit love affair. Nothing happens. Nothing happens but the magnificent prose. At least on the surface.

Well, guess what? Can't judge a book by its cover. Can't judge a prose by just the surface, either. For apparently nothing happens, but it's all there. First, friendship between two couples with different professional aspirations and different tempers. Then, what the narrator names "the snake" that introduces itself into this paradisiac world of mutual love. Charity, dissatisfied with the lack of ambition of her husband, is a strong, controlling woman, who must have things done her way. But is she the snake? Sally, the narrator's wife, catches polio while the four friends are on a hiking trip, and will never recover the use of her legs. Is that tragedy the snake? Or is it the weakness of Sid, Charity's husband? And what about Larry, the narrator, who can be so judgmental at times?

And so come the awakenings. Realizing that the imperfections of friends are just mirrors; here lies the snake. Not in facing the mirror and really looking, but in refusing to do so. For what appear to be the toughest characters, Larry and Charity, are really masters of denial, while gentle creatures like Sally and Sid are about self-acceptance, and thus stronger than their more flamboyant counterparts. Charity's ultimate cruelty of not allowing her husband to accompany her to the place where she will spend her last living days will eventually play against her. She sees that cruelty as a form of protection; she thinks she will spare her fragile husband. Delusion, delusion. She just doubles, deepens the wound. She's not as tough as she thinks. And if she knows cancer will not spare her, death is something she cannot control. Control, too, is delusional. Charity (what a wonderfully ironic name) ultimately loses it, that control; she loses it in the last moments of her life. And that is her redemption.

Larry's is similar. When Sid disappears, Larry goes on a search to find his friend and is unsuccessful --not something he's used to in his professional life. But the ending, with one simple word of affirmation -- I originally made a typo and wrote "one simple world of affirmation," but it is appropriate also -- says it all. A simple word that brought me to tears. And I don't cry easily.

I was deeply, deeply moved by this masterpiece. I had never read Wallace Stegner before, but I plan to get to know this author better by reading his short stories. To you lovers of literature out there, to you who love words, and worlds in words, I cannot recommend this book enough.
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