Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner

During most of July, the Books, Brew, and Banter group read and discussed Wallace Stegner’s 1987 novel Crossing to Safety.  Although Stegner made his literary debut with Remembering Laughter in 1937 (set in Iowa Farm country where Stegner was born), and wrote prolifically and with distinction for fifty years, most of the BB&B group had never read his fiction.  And, in the end, everybody agreed that we had found a treasure in Crossing to Safety.

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.

— Sharelle Moranville.