This is the story of two marriages and a powerful friendship that binds them. Larry Morgan narrates; in the real time of the novel, he is in his sixties, and staying with his wife Sally at the Vermont home of their lifelong friends Sid and Charity Lang. They have not seen each other for several years; the Morgans now live in New Mexico, and Sally, disabled from polio, struggles to travel far. However, as we find out within the first few pages, this is not a joyful reunion. The Morgans have been summoned because Charity is dying, and this is a last chance for them to be together in a place where they share so many happy memories. Larry finds himself meditating on the life they have shared as he walks through the grounds of the house that has not changed since they were twentysomethings back in the 1930s. Starting from the beginning of their friendship in the college town of Madison, Wisconsin, he tells the story of his own marriage, that of Sid and Charity’s, and of a friendship that sustained across half a century as all four navigated their paths through lives that turned out to be very different from their youthful dreams.
What makes this novel so utterly engrossing and so desperately moving is that each of these four adults are so real, and the problems they face as they journey through life and find it far from what they had hoped cannot fail to strike a chord with anyone who reads their stories. Ostensibly this novel is about what it means to be human; what it means to love, to lose, to try, to fail, to dream, to hope, to strive. It shows that what really sustains us is not the things we do but the relationships we form. To be loved, understood and accepted, despite your flaws, are ultimately the most fulfilling and life altering of experiences that will be treasured far more than any financial or career success. Larry discovers this as he tells the story of the friendship that has altered the course of his life, and as both he and the reader come to realise just how much they all mean to one another, and what a hole Charity’s death will leave behind, the pain of knowing what must come is unbearable.
Wallace Stegner’s writing is exquisite, and his ability to convey the essence of humanity and the power of friendship in this deceptively simple, humble tale is astounding. This is the book I have been waiting to read all my life; the book that shows life as it really is, in all its wonder and beauty and injustice and disappointment. I felt like Stegner had seen directly into my soul with every word he wrote. I will never forget Crossing to Safety; it is one of the best books I have ever read, written by a man I wish I had known. If you’ve never read this, you need to, now. It’s one to take with you through every stage of life; a wise, beautiful, knowing insight into the human soul, and how glorious it is to love and be loved.