Crossing to Safety Summary

Larry and Sally Morgan meet Sid and Charity Lang for the first time in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1983, both men having joined the university faculty as first-year English instructors. Their plight as junior faculty members and their common interests draw the four together, although the Morgans have come via University of California, Berkeley, and the Langs from Harvard University. They find their friendship enriched by common experiences, both wives bearing children at about the same time. Despite a good publication record, Larry is not reappointed; though Sid remains for a time, he too is denied tenure.

Being wealthy, Sid and Charity help their friends financially after Sally contracts polio. Sid becomes a professor at Dartmouth College, and Larry succeeds as a writer. Episodes in the plot emphasize their first year, their summer vacations at the Langs’ home in Vermont, their later trip to Europe, and Charity’s final ordeal with cancer. The relationships are drawn with tact and subtlety as characters reveal themselves through interaction. The novel explores the question of how close and supportive spouses and friends can be without violating a person’s essential being.

In addition to memorable characterization and artful narrative technique, the book offers lean, muscular prose, with concrete diction and graceful rhythm characteristic of Wallace Stegner at his best. Using vivid nature imagery, he forms natural objects into symbols and motifs that bind the narrative into a tight unity. Through precise and ample description of settings, he achieves a powerful evocation of places that are thematically significant.