Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Crossing to Safety

Crossing to Safety

4.0 71
by Wallace Stegner, Terry Tempest Williams, T.H. Watkins

See All Formats & Editions

Introduction by Terry Tempest Williams
Afterword by T. H. Watkins
Called a “magnificently crafted story . . . brimming with wisdom” by Howard Frank Mosher in The Washington Post Book World, Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 1987, established itself as one of the greatest and most


Introduction by Terry Tempest Williams
Afterword by T. H. Watkins
Called a “magnificently crafted story . . . brimming with wisdom” by Howard Frank Mosher in The Washington Post Book World, Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 1987, established itself as one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth century. Tracing the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples who move between Vermont and Wisconsin, it is a work of quiet majesty, deep compassion, and powerful insight into the alchemy of friendship and marriage.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Adding to a distinguished body of work that already has earned him a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Awardand on the 50th anniversary of the publication of his first novelStegner's new book is an eloquent, wise and immensely moving narrative. It is a meditation on the idealism and spirit of youth, when the world is full of promise, and on the blows and compromises life inevitably inflicts. Two couples meet during the Depression years in Madison, Wis., and become devoted friends despite vast differences in upbringing and social status. Hard work, hope and the will to succeed as a writer motivate the penurious narrator Larry Morgan and his wife Sally as he begins a term teaching at the university. Equally excited by their opportunities are Sid Lang, another junior man in the English department, and his wife Charity. They are fortune's children, favored with intelligence, breeding and money. Taken into the Langs' nourishing and generous embrace, the Morgans have many reasons for gratitude over the years, especially when Sally is afflicted with polio and the Langs provide financial as well as moral support. During visits at the Langs' summer home on Battell Pond in Vermont and later sharing a year in Florence, the couples feel that they are ``four in Eden.'' Yet the Morgans observe the stresses in their friends' marriage as headstrong, insufferably well-organized Charity tries to bully the passive Sid into a more aggressive mold. Charity is one of the most vivid characters in fiction; if she is arrogant, she is also kindhearted, enthusiastic, stalwart and bravean ardent liver of life. Her incandescent personality is both the dominant force and the source of strain in the enduring friendship Stegner conveys with brilliant artistry. He is also superb at expressing a sense of place, and his intelligent voice makes cogent observations on American society in the decades of his setting. But most importantly, he speaks to us of universal questions, reflecting on ``the miserable failure of the law of nature to conform to the dream of man.'' In doing so, he has created a believable human drama the dimensions of which reach out beyond the story's end and resonate in the reader's heart. BOMC and QPBC alternates; Franklin Library Signed First Edition Society selection. (September 21)
Library Journal
Stegner published his first novel 50 years ago. Since then he has won both a Pulitzer Prize (for Angle of Repose, 1971) and the National Book Award (for The Spectator Bird, 1976). His latest effort, an exploration into the mysteries of friendship, deserves similar accolades. With a quiet but strong hand, he traces the bond that develops between Charity and Sid Lang and Sally and Larry Morgan from their first meeting in 1937 through their eventual separation to their final get-together in 1972 when Charity is dying of cancer and is determined ``to do it right,'' no matter what anyone else thinks. It seems only appropriate that Charity bring them together since she has been the driving force behind the relationship. As we discover now, her bull-headedness has had its price. This is a wonderfully rich, warm, and affecting book. Highly recommended. David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Modern Library Classics
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
File size:
726 KB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Floating upward through a confusion of dreams and memory, curving like a trout through the rings of previous risings, I surface. My eyes open. I am awake.

Cataract sufferers must see like this when the bandages are removed after the operation: every detail as sharp as if seen for the first time, yet familiar too, known from before the time of blindness, the remembered and the seen coalescing as in a stereoscope.

It is obviously very early. The light is no more than dusk that leaks past the edges of the blinds. But I see, or remember, or both, the uncurtained windows, the bare rafters, the board walls with nothing on them except a calendar that I think was here the last time we were, eight years ago.

What used to be aggressively spartan is shabby now. Nothing has been refreshed or added since Charity and Sid turned the compound over to the children. I should feel as if I were waking up in some Ma-and-Pa motel in hard-times country, but I don’t. I have spent too many good days and nights in this cottage to be depressed by it.

There is even, as my eyes make better use of the dusk and I lift my head off the pillow to look around, something marvelously reassuring about the room, a warmth even in the gloom. Associations, probably, but also color. The unfinished pine of the walls and ceilings has mellowed, over the years, to a rich honey color, as if stained by the warmth of the people who built it into a shelter for their friends. I take it as an omen; and though I remind myself why we are here, I can’t shake the sense of loved familiarity into which I just awoke.

The air is as familiar as the room. Standard summer-cottage taint of mice, plus a faint, not-unpleasant remembrance of skunks under the house, but around and through those a keenness as of seven thousand feet. Illusion, of course. What smells like altitude is latitude. Canada is only a dozen miles north, and the ice sheet that left its tracks all over this region has not gone for good, but only withdrawn. Something in the air, even in August, says it will be back.

In fact, if you could forget mortality, and that used to be easier here than in most places, you could really believe that time is circular, and not linear and progressive as our culture is bent on proving. Seen in geological perspective, we are fossils in the making, to be buried and eventually exposed again for the puzzlement of creatures of later eras. Seen in either geological or biological terms, we don’t warrant attention as individuals. One of us doesn’t differ that much from another, each generation repeats its parents, the works we build to outlast us are not much more enduring than anthills, and much less so than coral reefs. Here everything returns upon itself, repeats and renews itself, and present can hardly be told from past.

Sally is still sleeping. I slide out of bed and go barefooted across the cold wooden floor. The calendar, as I pass it, insists that it is not the one I remember. It says, accurately, that it is 1972, and that the month is August.

The door creaks as I ease it open. Keen air, gray light, gray lake below, gray sky through the hemlocks whose tops reach well above the porch. More than once, in summers past, Sid and I cut down some of those weedlike trees to let more light into the guest cottage. All we did was destroy some individuals, we never discouraged the species. The hemlocks like this steep shore. Like other species, they hang on to their territory.

I come back in and get my clothes off a chair, the same clothes I wore from New Mexico, and dress. Sally sleeps on, used up by the long flight and the five-hour drive up from Boston. Too hard a day for her, but she wouldn’t hear of breaking the trip. Having been summoned, she would come.

For a minute I stand listening to her breathing, wondering if I dare go out and leave her. But she is deeply asleep, and should stay that way for a while. No one is going to be coming around at this hour. This early piece of the morning is mine. Tiptoeing, I go out onto the porch and stand exposed to what, for all my senses can tell me, might as well be 1938 as 1972.

No one is up in the Lang compound. No lights through the trees, no smell of kindling smoke on the air. I go out the spongy woods path past the woodshed and into the road, and there I meet the sky, faintly brightening in the east, and the morning star as steady as a lamp. Down under the hemlocks I thought it overcast, but out here I see the bowl of the sky pale and spotless.

My feet take me up the road to the gate, and through it. Just inside the gate the road forks. I ignore the Ridge House road and choose instead the narrow dirt road that climbs around the hill to the right. John Wightman, whose cottage sits at the end of it, died fifteen years ago. He will not be up to protest my walking in his ruts. It is a road I have walked hundreds of times, a lovely lost tunnel through the trees, busy this morning with birds and little shy rustling things, my favorite road anywhere.

Dew has soaked everything. I could wash my hands in the ferns, and when I pick a leaf off a maple branch I get a shower on my head and shoulders. Through the hardwoods along the foot of the hill, through the belt of cedars where the ground is swampy with springs, through the spruce and balsam of the steep pitch, I go alertly, feasting my eyes. I see coon tracks, an adult and two young, in the mud, and maturing grasses bent like croquet wickets with wet, and spotted orange Amanitas, at this season flattened or even concave and holding water, and miniature forests of club moss and ground pine and ground cedar. There are brown caves of shelter, mouse and hare country, under the wide skirts of spruce.

My feet are wet. Off in the woods I hear a Peabody bird tentatively try out a song he seems to have half forgotten. I look to the left, up the slope of the hill, to see if I can catch a glimpse of Ridge House, but see only trees.

Then I come out on the shoulder of the hill, and there is the whole sky, immense and full of light that has drowned the stars. Its edges are piled with hills. Over Stannard Mountain the air is hot gold, and as I watch, the sun surges up over the crest and stares me down.

We didn’t come back to Battell Pond this time for pleasure. We came out of affection and family solidarity, as adopted members of the clan, and because we were asked for and expected. But I can’t feel somber now, any more than I could when I awoke in the shabby old guest cottage. Quite the reverse. I wonder if I have ever felt more alive, more competent in my mind and more at ease with myself and my world, than I feel for a few minutes on the shoulder of that known hill while I watch the sun climb powerfully and confidently and see below me the unchanged village, the lake like a pool of mercury, the varying greens of hayfields and meadows and sugarbush and black spruce woods, all of it lifting and warming as the stretched shadows shorten.

There it was, there it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship had its home and happiness its headquarters.

When I come in I find Sally sitting up, the blind closest to the bed—the one she can reach—raised to let a streak of sun into the room. She is drinking a cup of coffee from the thermos and eating a banana from the fruit basket that Hallie left when she put us to bed last night.

“Not breakfast,” Hallie said. “Just hazari. We’ll come and get you for brunch, but we won’t come too early. You’ll be tired and off your clock. So sleep in, and we’ll come and get you about ten. After brunch we’ll go up and see Mom, and later in the afternoon she’s planned a picnic on Folsom Hill.”

“A picnic?” Sally said. “Is she well enough to go on a picnic? If she’s doing it for us, she shouldn’t.”

“That’s the way she’s arranged it,” Hallie said. “She said you’d be tired, and to let you rest, and if she says you’ll be tired, you might as well be tired. If she plans a picnic, you’d better want a picnic. No, she’ll be all right. She saves her strength for the things that matter to her. She wants it like old times.”

I let up the other two blinds and lighten the dim room. “Where’d you go?” Sally asks.

“Up the old Wightman road.”

I pour myself coffee and sit down in the wicker chair that I remember as part of the furniture of the Ark. From the bed Sally watches me. “How was it?”

“Beautiful. Quiet. Good earthy smells. It hasn’t changed.”

“I wish I could have been along.”

“I’ll take you up later in the car.”

“No, we’ll be going up to the picnic, that’s enough.” She sips her coffee, watching me over the rim of the cup. “Isn’t it typical? At death’s door, and she wants it like old times, and orders everybody to make it that way. And worries about us being tired. Ah, she’s going to leave a hole! There’s been a hole, ever since we. . . . Did you feel any absences?”

“No absences. Presences.”

“I’m glad. I can’t imagine this place without them in it. Both of them.”

Long-continued disability makes some people saintly, some self-pitying, some bitter. It has only clarified Sally and made her more herself. Even when she was young and well she could appear so calm and withdrawn from human heat and hurt that she fooled people. Sid Lang, who is by no means unperceptive, and who was surely a little in love with her at one time, used to call her Proserpine, and tease her with lines from Swinburne:

Pale, beyond porch and portal

Crowned with calm leaves, she stands

Who gathers all things mortal

With cold immortal hands. Her cold immortal hands got to be a joke among us. But long before then, back during the years when her mother was having to stash her like a parcel in any convenient place, that was when she learned quiet, the way fawns are supposed to lie unmoving, camouflaged and scentless, where their mothers leave them. Some hand, very early, brushed her forehead serene as stone; she seems as tranquil within as without. But I have known her a long time. The refining of her face by age and illness that has given a fragile elegance to her temples and cheekbones has concentrated her in her eyes.

Now her eyes give the lie to her passive, acceptant face. They are smoky and troubled. She fixes them on her hands, which she folds, unfolds, refolds, and speaks to. “I dreamed about her. I woke up dreaming about her.”

“That’s natural enough.”

“We were having some kind of fight. She wanted me to do something, and I was resisting her, and she was furious. So was I. Isn’t that a miserable way to . . .” She pauses, and then, as if I have contradicted her, bursts out, “They’re the only family we ever had. Our lives would have been totally different and a lot harder without them. We’d never have known this place, or the people who have meant the most to us. Your career would have been different—you might have been stuck in some cow college. Except for Charity, I wouldn’t be alive. I wouldn’t have wanted to be.”

“I know.”

I am sitting with my back to the window. On the bed table is a tumbler of water that I set there for Sally last night. The sun, coming in flat, knocks a prismatic oval out of the tumbler and lays it on the ceiling. I reach out my foot and kick the table. The rainbow image quivers. I lift a hand and block the beam of sun from the glass. The rainbow goes out.

Sally has been watching me, frowning. “What are you telling me? It’s all over? Accept? I get tired of accepting. I’m tired of hearing that the Lord shapes the back to the burden. Who said that?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t.”

“Maybe it’s true, but I don’t need any more shaping. I wake up here where everything reminds me of them, and I’m dreaming we’re quarreling, and I think how I let myself judge her, and how long it’s been, and I just want to weep and mourn.”

Rebuking herself, she makes a disgusted face. We look at each other uncomfortably. I say, because she seems to need some expression of distress from me, “I’ll tell you one place I felt absences. Last night. I knew Charity wouldn’t be out with a flashlight cheering our arrival, but I expected Sid. I suppose he’s needed up there. But I felt how serious it is, my heart went down, when only Hallie and Moe appeared as a proxy welcoming committee. This morning I forgot again, it felt as it used to.”

“I wish she didn’t have this idea we’ll be too tired to come up this morning. Isn’t it like her? I guess noon will have to do. Will you get me up? I need to go.”

I get her into her braces and lift her under the arms and set her on her feet and hand her her canes. With her forearms thrust into them she lurches off to the bathroom. I follow, and when she stands in front of the toilet and stoops to unlock her knees, I ease her down on the seat and leave her. After a while she knocks on the wall and I go in and lift her up. She locks her iron knees again and stands to wash at the washbowl, stained by minerals in the spring water. After a few minutes she comes out, her hair combed and the sleep washed from her face. By the bed she stoops once more to unlock her knees, and sits down suddenly on the rumpled covers. I lift her legs and straighten her out and put the pillows behind her.

“How do you feel? Okay?”

“Maybe Charity is right. I do feel tired.”

“Why don’t you sleep some more? Want the braces off?”

“Leave them on. It’s less nuisance for you if I have to call you.”

“It’s no nuisance to me.”

“Oh,” she says, “it has to be. It has to be!” Her eyes close. Then she is smiling again. “How about peeling us an orange?”

I peel us an orange and pour the last coffee from the thermos. Braced against the headboard with her legs making a thin straight line under the blankets, she shapes her face into one of its game, sassy looks as if to say, What fun!

“I like this hazari idea,” she says. “Don’t you? It’s like Italy, when we woke up early and you made tea. Or the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay. Remember hazari there? Only there too it was fruit and tea, not fruit and coffee. All we need is a big ceiling fan, the kind Lang broke by throwing a pillow at it.”

I look around at the bare walls, bare studs, bare rafters, and naked green blinds. Every element of the compound, even the Big House, is much the same. Charity imposed austerity evenhandedly on herself, her family, and her guests. “Well,” I have to say, “not quite the Taj Mahal.”


“If you say so.”

She drops to her lap the half-clenched hand with the half orange in it—the hand that will never quite unclench because while she was in the iron lung all of us, even Charity who thought of everything, were so concerned that she go on breathing that we forgot to work on her hand. It stayed clenched there for too long. Now for a moment her controlled serenity, her acceptance and resignation, her stout and stoical front, dissolve away again. The woman who looks out at me is emotional and overtired.

Meet the Author

Terry Tempest Williams is the author of many books, including Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place; Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert; and Finding Beauty in a Broken World. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Lannan Literary Fellowship in creative nonfiction, she lives in southern Utah.
T. H. Watkins (1936–2000) was the first Wallace Stegner Distinguished Professor of Western American Studies at Montana State University, and was the author of twenty-eight books.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
February 18, 1909
Date of Death:
April 13, 1993
Place of Birth:
Lake Mills, Iowa
Place of Death:
Santa Fe, New Mexico
B.A., University of Utah, 1930; attended University of California, 1932-33; Ph. D., State University of Iowa, 1935

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Crossing to Safety 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 71 reviews.
bookwormiest More than 1 year ago
I love all of Stegner's work, and while I can't say objectively, that it's his best, it's certainly my favorite. I love the intimacy of it. Even though it's told from one character's perspective, you feel close to the others as well, for better and for worse. I'd probably strangle Charity if I knew her in real life, and yet . . . what an incredible friend she is. I love how the good, bad and mundane are woven into the story and yet, how the focus remains on these four friends. It's a book I like to read every few years when I need my heart warmed and my mind opened.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If only there were more books like this in the world, ones that look at ordinary people who are forced into extraordinary situations. I think it is beautifully written, as well as a touching and deeply moving story. I read this book years ago and I still think about the characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Stegner is so good and such an honest and thoughful writer that I was compelled to keep reading this engaging novel, although I much preferred his 'Angle of Repose,' with its more strongly developed characters and more interesting story. The characters in 'Crossing to Safety' seem to me to be much less sympathetic (with the possible exception of Sid Lang) and often terribly self- absorbed or just plain annoying -- or, as in the case of Sally Morgan, too opaque. Part I is marvelous, though, and I couldn't put it down; Part II is good but starts to become uneven; and Part III was, for me, close to interminable toward the end -- it just went on and on. Despite the interminable ending, the second half of the novel seemed to rush through a story for which I wanted more details. Also, the book read too much like thinly veiled autobiography at times. Novels narrated by characters who are writers can be tough to pull off without becoming self-indulgent and/or self-absorbed, and this book is, I think, susceptible to that problem. Nonetheless, it's worth reading for Stegner's prose and his story-telling ability, but again, it paled in comparison with the superior 'Angle of Repose.' I've not yet read his others.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Probably I missed the point, if there was one, but the prose is lovely, evocative of an era or two. Don't put it down if you value your comfort time. WARNING:This is not a credible tale, but heartwarming. Great book club fodder.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A book for those who love the language, filled with sentences of surprise, beauty, poignancy. A description of relationships between husbands and wives and their friends. A truthful book, capturing the emotion of discovery of new friends, kindred spirits and the journey of life with friends and lovers. One of the best books I've read, I highly reocmmend this book to any mature reader--perhaps it takes some years to really grasp what Stegner is talking about. Maybe not. The reader will have to see for him or herself. Enjoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful wallace stegner novel regarding friendship and lfe. Vivid descriptiond made me yearn to be part of these people's lives, family and time period.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a bit slow at times but the author does an excellent job of portraying the emotions and attitudes of others. There are some excellent portions of the book and there are some areas I wish he would have expounded more on.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There is nothing to dispute or debate in this book because no one can walk in another's shoes. This is the story of four people told through the eyes of one of the male characters. They did things their way, made their choices, soared when things went well, and suffered when things went wrong, as we all do. The unique experience of the book is that they shared so much of it together, until by necessity and choice they had a time apart. As the book progresses we wonder what we would have done in their circumstances, or what we may yet do. Even to the end and their eventual reunion, their essential characters and personalities remain the same, and we watch them deal with the challenges that lay ahead for each of them.
Anonymous 5 months ago
You stupid people make it so difficult to find books when half of the "reviews" are vulgar and innappropriate. This book is a classic that has lived for generations! What you are doing here is so wrong!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read all the reviews (even the ones that had NOTHING to do with the book).  Maybe it's me, but I found this to be one of the most boring books I ever opened.  An as far as Charity,  did the word Bitch ever enter this man's vocabulary? I think not.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Name: Jackie Brewer.<p> Age: 16<p> Se<_>x:&female<p> Description:dark brown hair, cute face, glossy brown eyes, glossy pink lips, full lips, full, firm brea<_>sts, DD cup, curvac<_>eous, nice slightly fat, juicy as<_>s, slightly jiggly thighs. <p> Crush:Kevin.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
17 years old 6"6 250 lbs. Solid muscle. I have broad shoulders, pecs and washboard abs. I have blonde hair that flips up naturally with Carribean blue eyes. Im eleven inches hard with a wide head thats 3 inches. I play varsity football swimming and laccrosse.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Light brown hair. 5'5 and 114lbs.. Bra size 32C. Emerald eyes. Long legs.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Iam amber i have brown hair and brown eyes and i am sexy
Jules45MN More than 1 year ago
I see all the fabulous reviews, but I just don't get it. I couldn't get but 1/4 of the way through it and was already skipping huge passages, It was not riveting, did not keep my interest, my thoughts would start wandering. I realized I just didn't care about these folks. Nothing about the writing grabbed you. Even though it came highly recommended by a friend and was chosen as a book for our book club, I decided it wasn't worth my time to keep reading. I guess it's great for some but not me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Outstanding! What a treat to read such a well-written story. You know the characters by the end of book. I wish there had been a sequel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago