Sometimes I pick up an unknown book in the bookstore because I think I might like it. That idea is based on the title, the cover or the description at the back. Sometimes I am disappointed, but more often I am thrilled to have discovered a beautiful book and a new author I like.
This was also the case with Crossing to safety by Wallace Stegner. I must admit I never heard of him, although he published many novels that won prizes and is considered to be one of the best American authors.
Crossing to safety is the story of two couples who meet eachother in 1937.
The book begins in 1972, when Larry and Sally Morgan visit Sid and Charity Lang in their summer home in Vermont and Larry reminisces their friendship.
Larry and Sally became friends with Sid and Charity in Madison, Wisconsin, where Larry was appointed as a teacher at the same small university where Sid worked. The Great Depression was hardly over and since Larry and Sally had no money of their own, they were fortunate to have this temporary job.
Sid and Charity had a different background, he was from a wealthy industrial family, she came from old money in New England. Despite these differences there is an instant connection and friendship grows between Sid and Larry and Charity and Sally. That both expect their babies to be born around the same date also helps.
Very beautifully Wallace Stegner describes the friendship and the dynamics between four people in two marriages.
Charity is a domineering personality. She knows what is right for everybody and makes sure everybody does as she sees fit. Sid would rather just write poems and sit quietly, but Charity has other plans for him.
The relationship between Larry and Sally seems more equal, but they will have to adapt to what happens to them and the changes they face.
It would be easy to dislike Charity, if she was not also a terribly kind and generous person. Still, it becomes very clear how stifling dominating and well-meaning love can be, although Sid does not seem to mind to be stifled.
It is the human relationships that are important in this novel. Wallace Stegner manages to make a situation clear in just a few words or one or two scenes.
A comparison with John Williams can be made here, I think. It is a similar way of writing. Not with many explanations or a lot of drama, instead you have normal scenes and moments from life, written in a clear and precise manner that keeps you captivated until the last sentence.
Originally published in 1987