“Crossing to Safety” was a somewhat of a struggle for me. I wasn’t very motivated to pick it up in between readings. However, once I started reading, I was invested in the story. The story is told in a broken timeline. We start in the present (1970s) with Sally and Larry Morgan arriving at their long-time friends’ summer home/compound. We get hints that their friend, Charity, isn’t doing well and they are coming to pay their respects. Then we are transported back to the late 1930s when newlyweds, Sally and Larry, arrive in Madison, Wisconsin where Larry has been hired for one year as an English professor. Soon we are introduced to Sid, who works with Larry in the English department, and Charity Lang. From there the story develops until it catches back up to where the book began.
Some details that stuck out to me were that Sally and Larry are from the West and transplants in the Midwest and Larry works in the English department. Coming from the West, getting my Master’s in English, and now teaching English, I related the Morgan’s journey and experiences to a certain extent. Mr. Stegner somewhat captures the experience of moving from the West to the Midwest and noticing the differences in cultures. I also thought he did a great job capturing what it’s like to work in academia and the English world. There’s a subtle critique of English departments here that’s partly couched in the time-period but, sadly, could still apply to the ivory tower today.
The development of the friendship between the Morgans and Langs was really interesting because along the way the Morgans especially have meta moments where they are wondering how it is that they are rich. The Langs are wealth, the Morgans aren’t. Larry is published author, Sid is struggling to do so. As time goes on, the Morgans get folded into the Lang family. They visit the New England summer vacation each year and are treated more as family than as guests. As someone who is kept involved in a book due to characters and character development, I thought this was interesting how their friendship developed over the middle of the book. To me the complex dynamic of their friendship was in contrast to the flatness of the characters.
I became tired of Larry’s aloofness and patronizing tone when it comes to the other characters. He’s almost the antagonist of Charity and doesn’t really develop a close relationship with Sid. The two men seem more like acquaintances rather than friends. Sally has the potential to really be a complex character due to what happens midway through the book, but ultimately takes on this angelic/madonna aurora in Larry’s narration. I still can’t tell whether this is good writing because this mirrors real life and how a middle class academic/writer would have told his story or whether it’s just flat writing.
What I REALLY didn’t like was the way the book ended. I feel like Mr. Stegner attempts to end the book on an artistic note. To me this is debatable. After a contentious conflict and serious introspecting the book just ends after a two word conversation without resolving any of the conflicts. Cue eyeroll. To Mr. Stegner’s credit, part of my frustration is that I wasn’t buying the conclusions Larry was coming to and the author was really banking on his protagonist to deliver the final blow.
As this was chosen for a read in my book club, I’m looking forward to debating some of my frustrations and hearing how others saw Larry and the conclusion. So while I didn’t think this was all that, I do think it makes a good book club read.