Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Crossing To Safety

Written by Wallace Stegner, author of one of my all-time favorite books Angle of Repose, Crossing To Safety describes with beautiful prose the art and act of friendship.

Two couples, Larry and Sally Morgan and Sid and Charity Lang, are both young couples living in Madison, Wiscosin during the Great Depression. Larry and Sid both have teaching jobs in the English Department at the university and Sally and Charity are both pregnant with similar due dates. The friendship between the four of them are instant and fully requited, and, as the novel begins with the Morgans visiting the Langs in their later years, obviously life long.

The title of the book comes from a poem written by Robert Frost that goes:

“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.”

I regrettably admit that I don't usually understand poetry without someone explaining to me its meaning. I think...I think this has to do with the intangible but still very real benefits of meaningful relationships. That those benefits exist even after death. But I could be wrong.

Like many, I assume, I long for that kind of meaningful friendship. One incredible thing about this book is that it adds to my longing without particularly making me want to BE a part of the book. The characters Stegner creates are so vividly real, I know...just know, that I couldn't be great friends with Charity. She's way too controlling. Likewise, I'd walk all over Sally. I need an equal sharer! Unfortunately, like almost every other character in the book, I don't have enough respect for Sid and Larry is much too full of himself to enjoy for long periods of time.

While I don't want to be their friends, in particular, I still envy their friendship. I want something similar. Only I want that one great friendship to be with people that don't bug me.

This book contains no great drama - no affairs or divorces, deaths or mysterious crimes - the journey of their friendship is compelling enough. He describes with such detail the universal jealousies, the generosity and benevolence of close friends, as well as the inevitable judgment that we make about others' relationships.

It's more than just a story about friendship and marriage, however. The characters themselves are literary looking glasses, exposing our own ambitions, priorities, tolerance, vices, pride, loyalty and egos. If you enjoy literature, and don't need an exotic story but find satisfaction in honest reality, you'll probably enjoy this quiet gem.

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