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Crossing to Safety

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  39,868 ratings  ·  5,365 reviews
Called a "magnificently crafted story . . . brimming with wisdom" by Howard Frank Mosher in The Washington Post Book World, Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 1987, established itself as one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth century. Tracing the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples who move between Vermont and Wiscon ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published April 9th 2002 by Modern Library (first published 1987)
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Termarimah I think the book was about each character's internal conflict between security and risk. The novel's many scenarios demonstrated how all four of the c…moreI think the book was about each character's internal conflict between security and risk. The novel's many scenarios demonstrated how all four of the characters took upon themselves some degree of risk throughout their careers and marriages—because, as Stegner showed us, life gives us little to no choice about these things. Importantly however he also showed us that what can be controlled is what one does with such events, particularly when risk-taking fails (or when things didn't turn out like one expected or hoped or planned!). One has a choice. One can devolve into darkness or despair, or choose to stay within the safety (or security) of what is known and appreciated.

I know that Stegner was very concerned with place in his writing (he was transient as a child), so I felt that his definition of security always involved some aspect of physical/spiritual location in the novel. When risks were taken and the characters were temporarily suspended in uncertainty, where did they turn to find their place? Inside the security of their marriages? Inside the security of academia? Inside their professed vocations? Inside their own internal certainties? Inside friendship? Yes, to all of the above. Even more importantly, I thought the novel was about a mutual, collective choice to embody Paradise Regained (and not Paradise Lost) at all costs, even if that meant repressing one's deepest desires, dreams and capabilities. I noted that it was only Sid who expressed any type of loss throughout their long friendship, even though there were hints of loss for everyone throughout the novel. It was simply a taboo topic. Everyone played it SAFE. Larry, who may have been the most in denial about his aspirations towards security and upward mobility said, “We were no lost generation, despite our losses. It was no Dada Nada that we hunted up and down the streets of Florence and through its museums and churches and out into dozens of hill towns and villages, but something humanized, something related to mind and order, and hence to hope; something that, as we kept reminding ourselves, was the dream of man.”

I asked myself however if these choices, despite all the characters' efforts, in fact mitigated risk in the end. I thought they did not. Ultimately Larry acknowledged, “You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him.” Death still arrives for you, despite your efforts to keep it at bay.

What was interesting about this novel for me is that the two most controlling, safety-seeking characters, Larry and Charity—who were coincidentally the most afraid of risk—were in the end outdone by the two most accommodating characters, Sid and Sally. The ending was hopeful because of these two characters' willingness to embrace ambiguity and change. They were the ones who ultimately crossed over to safety, and I thought Stegner's vision in this regard was quite powerful.(less)
Carol Elliott I'm not familiar with "triggers" in lit, or what would be "clean." Usually we use "clean" now is the obvious -- opposite of needing a shower or bath, …moreI'm not familiar with "triggers" in lit, or what would be "clean." Usually we use "clean" now is the obvious -- opposite of needing a shower or bath, filthy clothing. Or, eating clean meaning no preservatives and organic. Not clean writing, as it's quite superfluous in explanation of life, art, buildings, weather and landscape.(less)
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Jim Fonseca
May 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Books like this are why I read. Despite some dark passages, it’s a delight to read and I’m adding it as one of my all-time favorites.

The story follows two couples through life. It’s an academic novel in a sense – both men start out as English professors at the University of Wisconsin in the difficult years of the late 1930’s – the end of the Depression, heading into WW II. The hunt for the Holy Grail of tenure and discussions of suitable academic work that will get tenure is one theme - poetry?
Mar 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Does it seem ironic that a book I’ve awarded a full pentad of stars is also the cause of great frustration? Not when I tell you that my problem has nothing to do with the novel itself, but rather in conjuring the right words to do it justice. You see every account I run through my head makes it sound more boring than it is. I guess I should just start by telling you it’s about two couples who met during the Great Depression. Sid and Charity Lang live well on inherited wealth. Larry and Sally Mor ...more
Sep 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are some books that seem to have tiny leaks in their spines and covers and pages and release almost unnoticeable misty, smoky particles of their story – well not so much their story but the mood that is created by the story – out into the “real” world. And when reading these books you find – or at least I find (I should shift my point of reference to me not you) that I am seeing things in my daily routine through a sort of cloud that at first I don’t recognize but then suddenly it dawns on ...more
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american, favourites
A Lost World

Once upon a time there was an American Republican President named Eisenhower. Ike wasn’t a very smart man but he was not an evil man. He didn’t like the way the world was run, not even in his own country. But he remained calm in his politics and civil to his political opponents. He set an example. People felt safe around other people.

At that time there was a place called Vermont. It contained a smaller place called the Northeast Kingdom. There were no motorways then and this place wa
Will Byrnes
Apr 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The narrator of this novel, Larry Morgan, at one point says to his wife, “But if I’m going to set the literary world on fire, the only way to do it is to rub one word against the other.”

Not only did Wallace Stegner likely set the literary world on fire with this book, he set me on fire! Can you imagine reading an entire book about the long friendship between two couples and being left gasping at the end, longing for more?

The characters in this book (primarily Larry and his wife Sally, and th
Nov 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2013
How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?

Stegner did it.

We follow two married couples from their bright eyed 1930s youth to their retirement years. There's no razzle dazzle, no shocks or mysteries, no scandals or horrors . Their hurts are subtle and familiar.

The writing is solid and reflective and downright beautiful.

I found the story to be mostly about acceptance. Loving people even when you don't like them. Finding satisfaction in life even when your plans f
May 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
You come to me and say, “I’m going away to a cabin in the woods by myself for a few days, to escape the noise of 21st century life. I need to recenter my priorities and remember what it can be like to disconnect with electronics and reconnect with humanity. I want to take something to read, similar to the incomparable Stoner by John Williams, that will remind me why I fell in love with literature. A quiet book where I can derive pleasure from the beauty of the words on the page and the images th ...more
How STRANGE. I assumed, based on the endless 5-star ratings out there for this book, that it was going to be a slam dunk for me.

But this book, which is the story of two couples (Larry and his wife Sally, and their friends Sid and Charity), bugged the heck out of me.

I'm SORRY! This is may be the sequel to my controversial Prince of Tides experience, in which I just couldn't find the love for a beloved classic.

I'll start off by saying there's no denying that Wallace Stegner is a lovely and elegant
Kevin Ansbro
"Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases…"
—Wallace Stegner

As with A Gentleman in Moscow and The Heart's Invisible Furies, the inescapable popularity of this book on Goodreads was the white flash of a rabbit's tail that first caught my eye. Then as I dipped into the lavish reviews, it became the godlike voice that boomed at me through thun
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The warm shudders I experienced as I sank into each night with this book on my lap, the stunning imagery of diminished time against an unchanging landscape, and the quiet story of academic couples faced with tragedy, makes me certain that Stegner will be an author I grow with this year. This year I made a pact with myself to become more familiar with the works of authors I love. Now here I am, back to visit Stegner, "The Dean of Western Writers," after having admired the program he started at St ...more
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
Mar 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Sorry, great writing but not for me.
Recommended to Florence (Lefty) by: Kelly
This defines the term character-driven novel, multi-faceted and deeply defined Steigner hones each with a surgeon’s precision. A story of two couples, the joys and challenges of their marriages and enduring friendship and a life cocooned within Ivy League’s walls.
• Larry Morgan (narrator): workaholic, driven, rags-to-riches college professor & author extraordinaire “I was a cork held under, my impulse was always up”
• Sally Morgan: ah Saint Sally…“I had to live, out of pure gratitude”
• Sid Lan
Michael Finocchiaro
My review of Stegner's Angle of Repose in which I was fairly critical of the book, several readers objected and insisted I read Crossing to Safety. Well, I listened to the audiobook during a long 7h drive today and found it more interesting than Angle and yet not in my upper echelon of American 20th C novels. Crossing reminded me more of Richard Russo's style that it did of Updike (both of whose writing I prefer). I liked the descriptions very much (as I did in Angle), but had a hard time really ...more
Oh, my heart, what a novel.

I'm incredulous that this novel is not up there among the best novels of the 20th century .
I only heard of Stegner last year.

I can't remember ever reading a novel about a friendship between two grown-up couples. Such friendships are rare. Lots of things have to align for that to happen, besides proximity, compatibility between four people, and the kids, a similar socio-economic standing, political and intellectual similarities.

Written in the 1980s, this is a novel abo
Jan 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: english
For me this book is difficult to review. On the one hand I needed two weeks for 280 pages which is not a good sign, on the other hand I enjoyed reading it a lot. In the end I did not know how to rate it. Instead of deciding spontaneously I listened two the both voices in my head (yes, I hear voices), the Good Guy and the Bad Guy. I will give you just a short summary of their dialogue.
GG: "You must be kidding. Three stars for this excellently written masterpiece?"
BG: "I don't object that part, it
Aug 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classic-novels
Life is a process of gradually narrowing choices. You learn this early in life, often when playing sports. You know you’re not going to be a Major League Baseball player because you can’t hit a curveball, or a fast fastball, or, in fact, the ball off a tee. Later, in school, you discover that your eyesight – and fear of heights – is going to keep you from being a jet pilot; and that your biology score is going to keep you from being a doctor, or passing biology; and that you aren’t ever going to ...more
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Tuning Fork for Epiphanies in the Commonplace

That is ever the difference between the wise and the unwise: the latter wonders at what is unusual; the wise man wonders at the usual.—Emerson

I did not expect too much from this novel, not being a big fan of Stegner's most-recognized novels, Angle of Repose (thee and thou and thy and thine began to crawl my spine) and the uninspiring The Spectator Bird. I was caught off guard then, by how deeply I was stirred by Stegner's semi-autobiographical novel o
May 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Sara by: Elyse
When I closed this book and laid it aside, my hand was shaking. The shaking was coming from deep inside my body and soul, where Wallace Stegner had infused me with words and images that caused me to tremble with recognition.

Stegner understands relationships and he also understands the part of the individual that is never given away to anyone else. He paints that so clearly that you see yourself in it as if it were a mirror. If you cannot see elements of your own marriage in this portrait, you c
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is my first book by this author and I was driven to read it by its wonderful title (my next book of his will be Angle of Repose for the same reason) and its enormous popularity. Not necessarily the best of reasons but I was happy with the result.

I doubt if anyone would argue that Stegner writes beautifully. This is the kind of prose you have to read slowly and carefully in order not to miss a thing. The story tells of several decades of friendship between two married couples describing the
5★ again
“Charity is tall and striking; Sally smaller, darker, quieter. One dazzles, the other warms.”

They are half of the foursome completed by Sid and Larry, their husbands. The four of them meet in their twenties, become fast friends, though from very different backgrounds, and bump up against each other on and off for the rest of their lives. Their bond is tested from time to time, by distance and circumstance, but remains unbroken.

Larry Morgan narrates the story, beginning near the end, when
Mikey B.
Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is a well written and very subdued story; there are no revelations or culminations.

It is about friendship and marriage over a lifetime and how it evolves, changes, and adjusts. The novel is very character based and concerns two different couples who become close friends. They are both very literary and they meet while teaching at a small college in the mid-west. Most of the settings, captured splendidly by the author, are either in the mid-west or at a lake in northern Vermont that is surro
Apr 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
J.K. Grice
Jan 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I could give all to Time except-except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There
And what I would not part with I have kept.


The poem above stands as the epigraph to Wallace Stegner's last novel, CROSSING TO SAFETY. Published in 1987, this books chronicles the lives of two married couples, spanning the years of 1933-1972. Larry & Sally Morgan meet Sid & Charity Lang while living in Madison, Wis
Steven Godin
Oct 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Achingly beautiful and deeply moving this is the closest any book has come to bring a tear to my eye, the friendship between the Langs and the Morgans was so strong and heart warming it has profoundly affected the way I look at life and that of my loved ones. Impeccably written by Stegner who I believe was in his late seventies at the time, this really is a timeless novel that would break even those who carry a heart of stone.
Feb 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-deserved-it
I’m not going to lie (I’m really bad at it) but I’ll have to admit I only heard about Wallace Stegner last year. At the time I’d read a very positive and passionate review and that was enough for me to know I had to read it. And the title, oh my goodness, isn’t it simply wonderful?

When I started the book a few days ago I basically knew nothing about it besides the fact that this was going to be a story about two couples who become friends. Today, I’m ready to rave about it to the whole world.

Jenny (Reading Envy)
I bought this back when I saw it was included in the book club for Modern Mrs. Darcy, a book club I am not a part of because I don't think you should pay money to belong to a book club, but I do pay attention to what they read.

This is another "classic" novel of 20th century literature where I had neither read the book itself nor the author. It focuses on the friendship between two couples, where both men are professors and writers and the women have other stuff going on. How hard is it to keep f
Aug 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Update July 11, 2019

I first read Crossing To Safety, my first book by Wallace Stegner, in August 2013. It made a deep impression that has lingered over the years. Since then I've read many more books by him, and this is still my favorite Stegner.

Original review, Aug 17, 2013
Crossing To Safety is a beautiful novel. It has an unassuming, quiet appeal that resides in its verbal felicity and its thoughtful definition of the worthy life.

It celebrates the best of friendship marked by an expansive ma
Lyn Elliott
Since I finished reading this book about three weeks ago, I've thought a lot about what its central subject actually is. The friendship between two married couples, with different expectations and backgrounds, over decades is certainly there. But in a sense it feels as though that is the surface, and that there are deeper, less obviously expressed themes throughout the book.

One, it seems to me, is a slow examination of what makes up charity. The dominant female character is Charity, wife of easy
Jan 31, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: public-library
This was a tad too far on the wholesome side for me.  I was expecting it to be a quiet novel, but there was little there into which to sink my fangs.  Not even the hint of a bad egg.  Rating is based on my own taste preferences, nothing more.  The writing is wonderful.  Family and friends, these are the people with whom you live your life.  Make the most of it.
Raul Bimenyimana
Jun 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was lovely. During the years of the great depression the Morgans and the Langs, both ambitious families meet at university in Wisconsin where Larry and Sid are working as teachers. The four individuals become fast friends. Larry and Sally have it tougher economically, expecting their first child and living in a basement while Larry tries to make ends meet from teaching and from publishing stories and reviews, both orphaned with no connections. Sid and Charity are also expecting (their third ...more
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Wallace Earle Stegner was an American historian, novelist, short story writer, and environmentalist. Some call him "The Dean of Western Writers." He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and the U.S. National Book Award in 1977. ...more

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48 likes · 10 comments
“You can plan all you want to. You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions. But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and everything you have fought to make yourself can be undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine.” 202 likes
“[Friendship] is a relationship that has no formal shape, there are no rules or obligations or bonds as in marriage or the family, it is held together by neither law nor property nor blood, there is no glue in it but mutual liking. It is therefore rare.” 70 likes
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