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Book Review: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

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Wallace Stegner's 1987 novel Crossing to Safety is a moving, immersive story about marriage and friendship, closely examining the rewards and challenges of each. Character isn't revealed so much by big plot moments or outside situations pushing on the characters and making them respond in certain ways, but by inherent personality traits gently revealed during the course of the kind of normal social interaction we all experience: dinner parties, picnics, vacations together, errands, walks, and the like. Big developments do happen occasionally, but not for the purpose of testing or revealing what these characters are truly like. The small moments do that just fine.

If all this sounds a little dull, it's not. Mr. Stegner's book makes each dinner party a vibrant, lively, fun event and every outdoor excursion a breath of fresh air. You'll really enjoy being along for the ride as the two central married couples meet and get to know each other. Certainly, there's darkness, sadness, and tragedy later, but the kinds we all face sooner or later in some capacity, and even then the richness of the friendship that went before makes such scenes bittersweet, not just bitter.

For the most part, I think that Larry and Sally — the quieter couple, the ones less surrounded by an air of drama — are meant to be stand-ins for the reader. Charity and Sid, rather, remind us of that couple seemingly all of us have in our lives: people we dearly love but who often make us shake our heads at their eccentricities and the needless difficulties they impose on themselves. There's a scene involving Charity and Sid deciding who's going to do the dishes (one of the many character-revealing small scenes I referred to above) that has to be seen to be believed, generating more intensity than a set piece from a thriller. Larry and Sally have their own challenges — quite big ones, in fact — yet their inherent personalities and ways of looking at things make their own lives so much easier than their friends'.

Crossing to Safety, still in print and a frequent discussion group favorite, is an extremely fast-reading book, more like an invitation to spend time with two fascinating couples than a novel. But of course it is a novel, and a quite rich, wonderful one at that.

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