Review: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Posted in Blog by - August 18, 2017

Crossing to SafetyThere is drama in Wallace Stegner‘s Crossing to Safety, but it’s the drama of everyday life: career successes and disappointments; courtships and births and illnesses; a hiking trip gone awry. There’s little sex, or even suspense; because the novel is mostly flashback, we know most of what will happen to the protagonists from the get-go. Instead there are lyrical descriptions of nature and scholarly ruminations on poetry.

So why is a leisurely paced novel about the decades-long relationship between two academic couples so compelling? Paradoxically, it’s the book’s particularity that makes it so relatable. All the characters are drawn vividly, but the four main ones we come to know so intimately that it’s impossible to avoid becoming invested in their destinies. And their actions flow so organically from their choices that we soon find ourselves nodding at them: yes, isn’t that just like Charity, or Sid, or Sally or the narrator, the promising author Larry.

But when we nod it’s also in recognition, not only because the years following the Great Recession may not be so very different from the ones following the Great Depression, but also because character traits like generosity and stubbornness are as manifest today as they were in the previous century. We know people like these; we are people like these.

And in coming to know them we come to know ourselves a little better too. Stegner has come to be known as a western writer, but that does him a disservice; he is a universal writer.

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Rick Schindler grew up in the idyllic northern suburbs of Buffalo, N.Y., a psychic stone’s throw from Archie Andrews’ hometown of Riverdale. His writing career began at age 15 when he won a New York Times award for a short story published in his high school literary magazine. At 19 he interned on the copy desk of the Buffalo News, where he discovered a knack for headline writing that has served him in good stead until the present day. He went on to a checkered media career that has included stints at HBO, TV Guide and NBC News Digital, where today he is a writer and editor for the website of the venerable American TV show TODAY. Schindler shared a 2012 Sigma Delta Chi award in online reporting with NBC News’ Bob Dotson for the “American Story with Bob Dotson” features on TODAY.com. He also won two 2012 awards in headline writing from the American Copy Editors Society, another in 2014 and two more in 2015. Schindler lives in White Plains, New York.