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Crossing to Safety
by Wallace Stegner


 
To: ALL Date: 03/21 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 9:18 AM Don't mean to be starting the discussion early, but I have just read the first 30 pages CROSSING TO SAFETY and want to encourage everyone to join in! It has absolutely grabbed me. Wasn't able to read ANGLE OF REPOSE with you though I did buy the book. Will be interested to hear the comparisons between them as I plan to read Angle at another time. Barbara =============== Reply 1 of Note 14 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 03/23 From: TPRS02A SABRINA MOLDEN Time: 0:50 AM Hi Jane, My father died last week which has been my reason for not posting. I want to share that, as I read CROSSING a few months ago,I thought about how blessed my husband and I are to have good friends like Charity and Sid. Our such friends traveled five hours and spent the whole weekend with us during this grieving period. We had to push them out the door to leave to get back to their own lives and jobs. Keep looking for friends like these. They are treasures!! One of my NEWEST friends who has also been a JEWEL to me during this difficult time in my life is one of the BEST FRIENDS I have ever had. Happy Reading! Sabrina =============== Reply 2 of Note 14 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 03/23 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 1:47 AM Jane: While I enjoyed CTS, I'm not sure that I'd be able to handle a friend like Charity. Didn't she seem just a little overbearing to you? --Jim in Oregon =============== Reply 3 of Note 14 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 03/23 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 9:31 AM I'm still about half-way through CTS and must admit that I come in a little closer to your view, Jim. I've had friends that had some of Charity's qualities and must admit that I've edged out of the relationship eventually. I tend to have a distinct adversion to being managed even when I can see all of the positive sides of it. However, I think part of what Stegner does so well in this story is showing you that there is no absolute conclusion on this question. The positives and negatives ebb and flow, but the towering fact of the relationship is paramount. As one who has trouble sustaining close friendships with the pace of my life, this is very interesting to me. Since this is my first reading of Stegner, I feel like I've found a little piece of gold and a trail to find more. Am hoping that his other novels are this good. Must also admit to wondering if my reading tastes are a bit "plebian" as I note my reactions to CTS. It's not a novel of enormous complexity, but simply a wonderful story with masterful characterizations. And, I feel like I'm coming home as I'm reading it. Barbara =============== Reply 5 of Note 14 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 03/23 From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 10:58 AM Barbara: I'm enjoying watching you enjoy 'Crossing to Safety' -- it's one of my all time favorites. I liked it MUCH more than 'Angle of Repose' -- and have never really figured out why. They are such different books, almost as if they were written by different people. In fact, I can't recall another example in my experience, where a writer has produced two works that 'feel' so different. Is it me or is it the Memorex? Dick in Alaska =============== Reply 7 of Note 14 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 03/23 From: PKHF06A ADELE STRATTON Time: 5:14 PM Hello All... At last I'm in sync with something the CR's are reading! I finished CTS this week and thought it was wonderful. Jane, I too am intrigued by the names of the females. In fact, I'm intrigued by many aspects of this book. I certainly didn't see Charity as the embodiment of her name. While it's true Sid and Charity helped Larry and Sally financially, Charity in many instances was anything but charitable to her own husband. And isn't it ironic that Charity's ability to be charitable to everyone else was the direct result of her husband's great wealth? Wasn't it curious that Aunt Emily (Charity and Comfort's mother) named her daughters with characteristics? Seems to me it was her first attempt at controlling them. Charity did have a good teacher! The central point of interest for me became how and why Sid and Charity got together and stayed together. Charity took control (which means Sid allowed her to) right from the beginning. And since Sid didn't need a job, and really just wanted to be a poet, why did Charity set out to change that? And what was the attraction between the two couples? At least in the beginning and perhaps until the end, wasn't Charity "using" Larry and Sally as a shining example for Sid? Is that friendship, or part of Charity's grand plan? Then there's the control that polio exerted over Larry and Sally's life. And Charity's attempt to fix that. Lots of stuff for discussion and contemplation here, at least for me. Barbara, I don't think this is as simple as it first appears. Adele in Columbus in what must be Indian Winter =============== Reply 8 of Note 14 =================  
To: PKHF06A ADELE STRATTON Date: 03/23 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 10:29 PM Adele, Are you new to CR? Welcome whether you are new or not. I still think that Charity embodied her name, because I don't think that she was using Larry and Sally. She came to visit Sally before she knew anything about either one of them. And she gave them things they needed without making them feel guilty. I wonder if we would be questioning Charity's motives if she were a man. It would be OK for a man to direct his wife, but it is shocking to many people for a woman to do the same thing. I think her urge to control was like a prison to her. She couldn't stop even at the end when she ended up suffering for her decision. What a lovely book!! I thank Lee Levine for recommending it. (But who is Lee Levine? Have I ever heard of this person?) Jane in Colorado. =============== Reply 9 of Note 14 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 03/24 From: VRCH78A ALLEN CROCKER Time: 1:14 AM Barbara: You're not starting the CROSSING TO SAFETY go- round early; since I've let myself get behind schedule I'm happy to have some incentive to get caught up. I'm just about halfway through CTS now and am finding it a good read. I'll be back in a couple of days (I hope) with my reactions; have already detected some similarities to ANGLE OF REPOSE, I think. I won't be able to give much time to discussing OPEN SECRETS, but have put up a note with a few thoughts about it elsewhere. Allen =============== Reply 10 of Note 14 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 03/24 From: PKHF06A ADELE STRATTON Time: 10:34 AM Jane, I'm not new to CR; a constant lurker but a rare poster. I've been around since CR's inception. But thanks for the welcome! First, I'm not asserting that Charity was using Larry and Sally, I'm just wondering. And, do we know for a fact that Charity came to visit before she knew anything about either of them? In that microcosmic university setting, and knowing what we know about Charity, I think it's highly unlikely that Charity knew nothing of them. As to whether we would question a man with Charity's characteristics, I'm not sure controlling is more commonly associated with men. I do believe that men and women control differently. Generally, women are much more subtle. And I don't know that controlling is a bad thing, or if it's right or wrong to control someone. I did not find Charity shocking. Just darned intriguing. One point that makes me question the whole friendship is when Charity went into the deep depression after Sid did not make tenure. Wouldn't a "normal" person (whatever that is!) in these circumstances reach out to one's closest friends? Larry and Sally heard about it second-hand, many months after the fact. Why didn't Sid reach out to his friend Larry at this time, even if Charity did not? Wasn't it because Larry didn't know how to do much of anything without Charity around to orchestrate things? I certainly agree with you that her urge to control was like a prison to her. One thing she couldn't control was her urge to control! The teabag incident was especially telling, and foreshadowed her inability to control her death. Like master female controllers I've known in my life, Charity was subtle and charming until pushed into a corner. Then the scrappier side of the compulsion bared itself. My massive book list credits Dale Short with suggesting this book many moons ago. I am indeed indebted. This one has taken hold of me and will not let go soon. Adele in Columbus, Today is my 23rd anniversary. I've now been married more than half my life--to the same guy! =============== Reply 11 of Note 14 =================  
To: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Date: 03/24 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 5:11 PM Dick & All: I'm glad to see so many people enjoying CROSSING TO SAFETY. I read it at the insistent urging of my sister-in-law the English prof in Dearborn, and it immediately became one of my all-time favorite novels. I love CTS not only for the gorgeous, graceful writing, but for a story I can relate to on many, many levels. Being an extremely mild-mannered sort myself, who apparently goes through daily life wearing a congenital expression of tentativeness and confusion, I have all my life been a veritable magnet for the Charitys of the world, bless 'em. Sweet, well-meaning people to whom it never occurs that they are not God's own social director, or that anyone but them knows the "correct" way things should be done. Charity is one of the most unforgettable characters in fiction to me, a tremendously complicated and contradictory person who combines the very best and worst humans are capable of in the same personality. The Camping Trip From Hell that Stegner describes had me both laughing out loud and sorrowful at once, because I've been on its equivalent many times before I wised up and became a recluse. The wonderfully-rendered faculty party where the two couples first meet really hit home for me, as well. It's the equivalent of falling in love, couple-wise. You're thinking, "Wow! A soul mate! Where has this person been all my life?" And then when the dew is off the rose you gradually discover that your wonderful soul mate can also be weird as hell, capable of amazing selfishness, cruelty, and irrationality, and has at least 500 annoying habits that drive you up the wall. But by that point the relationship has taken on a life of its own, as Barbara so eloquently points out, and you realize you're in for the duration. One of many memorable scenes for me is when Larry, the morning during the terrible camping trip, comes upon Sid and Charity naked in the woods, in the fog: "One impression is inescapable. If there was ever a dominant male, Sid is it. He is muscled like Michelangelo's Adam anyway, but this morning he looks proud, sure of his power, even arrogant. And Charity? Docile female, following obediently, turning to pick berries from a bush he designates as hers..." A reminder of how incredibly complicated a marriage, any marriage, is, and how impossible it is to judge from outside what's really going on. A rich, rich book, and the wisest on the subject of adult friendships I've ever come across. I look forward to following your conversation further. Dale in Ala. (PS: My sister-in-law sent me an article from a literary magazine, an interview with the daughter of the "real" Charity; apparently the book is very autobiographical in that respect. The daughter said she was not offended at all by Stegner's portrayal of her mother, and that if the truth be known he "toned her down a good bit for the book." Is that a scary thought, or what?) =============== Reply 12 of Note 14 =================  
To: PKHF06A ADELE STRATTON Date: 03/24 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 9:04 PM Finished CROSSING TO SAFETY today and I know I'm prone to hyperbole after finishing a good book, but it truly may be my favorite read this year. Adele, I agree that this is not a simple book...made that statement after the first half and it got far more complex after that...which age and time seems to do to all situations. However, I didn't really mean it in that way. What I meant was that I wasn't looking for symbolism or philosophical constructs as I read it. I was simply enjoying exploring all the complexities of human behavior and relationships. And, was doing it with characters that I basically liked. Doing that reminded me how much I love being in that situation. Don't think I would have appreciated the depth of this book as much if I had read it in my 20's. The whole dynamic is so based on the interactions between couples and how these four people and their relationships progress with time. It was interesting that Stegner took two people with some of the same emotional needs...Larry and Charity...to be the male in one couple and the female in the other. They expressed their needs in very different ways, but it seems to me that Larry's absolutely focused journey toward his goal was somewhat like Charity's, though the need to control others certainly wasn't there. This was a requirement after his parents died and he married Sally, but I think Stegner made the point that this was his behavior from the beginning. And, in many ways Sally and Sid were similar...in fact, Sid would have probably been very happy if he had been born female and could have been in a more supportive role (viewed as more acceptable for women in our culture)...even finding time to pursue his varied interests. Almost every couple has an interesting blend of these kinds of dynamics and when they "click" with another couple, there needs to be this kind of a sympathetic blend. And, the whole character study of Charity over time is fascinating. I don't think I can say anything about her that is completely positive or negative...what a complex character! We hear a lot about controlling personalities these days, but psychology classes should be using this book as a point of discussion. She did so much that was so good and so much else that was so destructive, but it was all done with the same motives, I thought. I really thought that it was all done because she thought that everyone would be better off in the long run. Loved Stegner's image of her as the desert tortoise who went in a straight line and doggedly after what she wanted...and the image of her plotting everything by the compass. And, what a complex relationship she had with Sid! I'm still working some of that out in my head. Part of her discounting of him had to do with him being a part of her and, therefore, the one who had to sacrifice. Sally said that late in the book when Larry said, "It's only Sid she's willing to put out." And, Sally replied, after a "long dark look. 'But, that's because he's so much herself.'". As to Adele's question concerning why they were attracted to each other in the first place, I think there were a lot of factors that Stegner points out. First of all, Sid is described as being very masculine and physically attractive. Also, he was a malleable, intelligent man. I'm sure a character like Charity would see him as someone crying out for her direction in addition to her own physical attraction to him. On Sid's side, Charity is also described as stunning. And, I kept thinking about Sid's awful relationship with his father...was there something about it that made Charity attractive to him? Hmmm. Did he really need as much direction as everyone implied from the outset or was that just established after a life-time habit of living with Charity? Barbara =============== Reply 13 of Note 14 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 03/24 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 9:04 PM A couple of more points... Kept wondering what Charity would have been like in the 90's given her own outlet for achievement through her own career, etc. It seems to me that she was the absolute image of a lot of ambitious, high achieving women of that time period who simply had no other outlet for their energies other than their families. My ex-mother-in-law was an architectural engineer who quit working the day she got married at 24 and funneled all of that vast intelligence into her house, husband and children. She was dynamic, curious and vastly entertaining, but her children could never get over their basic, paralyzing shyness...there seemed to be some connection there. And, one last point...there is an interaction between Larry and Sally toward the end that sums up a lot of what Stegner is saying, I think. When they are in Europe and have just dropped off the workman with the injured hand, Larry says... *** "When you remember today, what will you remember best, the spring countryside, and the company of friends, or Piero's Christ and that workman with the mangled hand?" She thought for a minute. "All of it," She said. "It wouldn't be complete or real if you left out any part of it, would it?" "Go to the head of the class," I said. *** Excellent summary of their lives, their relationship with Sid and Charity...and the experience of Charity herself. Sorry to go on and on. Can you tell I liked this book?!? Barbara =============== Reply 16 of Note 14 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 03/25 From: BKKD62C LEANORE LEVINE Time: 8:02 AM Hi, I am Lee Levine... alive and well and living in Sarasota, Florida.... also known as a lurker on this BB. Have been enjoying all my CR friends for years. I just thought that CTS had wonderful possibilities. Am enjoying the discussion. Lee To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 03/26 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:39 PM Dale, Your quote made me think that Charity seemed docile and Sid dominant because they were stripped (sorry, can't think of another word) of the trappings of civilization. Larry was saying that sometimes Sid was the strong one, I guess. Larry also indicated that he liked sparring with Charity. I found it interesting that Sid didn't take well criticism of Charity. And Sid did rebel now and then. I loved his childish throwing away of his cane. I also loved the abrupt ending. Jane in chilly Colorado. =============== Reply 3 of Note 6 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 03/27 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 12:14 PM Jane: I think you're right, about the idyllic setting and the escape from routine allowing Sid and Charity's role reversal that Larry glimpses on the camping trip. In any event, a beautiful, somehow primal image, I thought. I recall that one of Larry's great pleasures in life was trying to get Charity's goat in conversation. I was reminded of them this week, while listening to a tape about the life of Immanuel Kant. Among the many admirers of his work were Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche--who, when they gathered for conversation "would pay Kant their ultimate homage, of vigorously disputing his ideas at great length." Something CRs can identify with, I think. Dale in vigorously disputed Ala. =============== Reply 5 of Note 6 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 03/28 From: VRCH78A ALLEN CROCKER Time: 11:05 PM First things first: next up on the reading list will be another book that has already seen a fair amount of dis- cussion here -- THE SHIPPING NEWS by Annie Proulx. As to CROSSING TO SAFETY: From the start I was looking out for any similarities to ANGLE OF REPOSE, and came up with a few. Both are told by late-middle-aged narrators looking backwards -- and both deal mostly with the first few years in the marriages of their characters. And in each case the narrator is mostly concerned with a relationship other than his own marriage -- in CTS it's that of Sid and Charity, in AOR the focus is on Lyman Ward's grandparents. In each case the narrator recon- structs dialogue of scenes from the past which he did not witness, and calls attention to that fact. (That Stegner deals in great detail with the beginning of Sid and Charity's relationship and not at all (that I recall, anyway) with the early days of Larry and Sally's would seem to show pretty clearly who the import- ant characters are. I imagine WS killed off the Morgan's parents early in the game partly to simplify that side of the story.) And both Sid and Charity's marriage and that of Ward's grandparents have at their heart a deep flaw, the discovery of which by the narrator is an element crucial to the plot of each of these novels. Of the two books, unlike the CRs who have so far ex- pressed opinions on both I much prefer ANGLE OF REPOSE. I consider AOR a far more varied and substantial work, as much a portrait of the settling of the West as of the lives of Lyman Ward's ancestors. It has the depth and breadth one can lose oneself in, as contrasted with CTS's pared-down study of the lives of its four characters. CROSSING TO SAFETY held my attention well enough, it's just that I far more enjoy the kind of novel that AOR is. Late in the book, Larry Morgan is asked by Hallie to write a book about her parents, and thinks in some detail about the difficulties inherent in trying to do so. It seems that Stegner is practically inviting the reader to speculate on the extent to which CTS is autobiographical, and to ask which elements are lifted from life and which are invented -- and why. Knowing from other notes that WS's wife was not confined to a wheelchair, I wondered why he chose to have Sally stricken with polio. It seems to me that this was a simple way to have a "balance of misfor- tune", if you will, between the two couples. Take away Sally's polio, and the Morgan's marriage is pretty much hunky-dory: Larry gets his editor's job, goes on to success as a writer, and all is bliss. With the tensions between Sid and Charity, and her eventual death, this simply won't do, so WS has to spread some suffering around to even things out. I guess polio was an efficient means toward this end; the advent of Sally's illness marks the dividing line between the first and second phases of the couples' friendship, and the specific choice of this ailment also serves to anchor us in that historic era in a way that, say, an auto accident would not. (The impact was somewhat mitigated for me by the fact that I was waiting for it to happen, since we know from very early on that Sally is crippled. As soon as Larry refers to the "roof falling in" on the camping trip I guessed that the time was at hand.) Just my two bytes worth..... Allen =============== Reply 6 of Note 6 =================  
To: VRCH78A ALLEN CROCKER Date: 03/29 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:52 PM Allen, I very much like both novels. I, too, felt the similarity in that WS covered a short period of time in the first half of each novel and then leaped through decades during the last half of each. I really felt the atmosphere much more intensely in the first halves of each. I thought that WS killed off Larry's parents and Sally's as well (I think) because it gave them a reason to "fall for" Charity and Sid. If you do not have close family, I think that you are often looking for close relationships in your life. As our dear gail would say, "They interrupted my life." Jane in Colorado. =============== Reply 1 of Note 5 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 03/31 From: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Time: 12:38 PM I am fascinated by the number of people who were attracted to the relationship between the couples in CTS.. My sentiments were exactly the opposite. I started out thinking that everyone was just a little too "nice" and that the book was fairly pedestrian. Then came the camping trip. Suddenly, Larry and Sally found themselves caught in a web by this absolute ogre. Try as I might, I can't manage to work up much sympathy for Charity. I liked the book, but more as a horror story than as an idyl about friendship. It's amazing to me that we all react so differently to these characters. --Jim in Oregon =============== Reply 2 of Note 5 =================  
To: NMTT86A JAMES HEATH Date: 03/31 From: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Time: 8:13 PM Jim, Reactions to characters do certainly differ, and although I can understand how someone can describe Charity as an "ogre," I didn't see her quite that way. The scene about loading the pack horse and the missing (but actually there) tea packet is a very telling scene about both Charity and Sid. Both of them make it a test of wills, not just Charity. And the later scene where Sid finds the original pack of tea, shows it to Larry, then throws it in the fire says a lot about Sid. He is a full participant in the drama that he allows Charity to script for their marriage. The facts of any contention are of no importance, only the roles Charity and Sid play, and I repeat, Sid chooses his role over and over again. I think Barbara has a good point, about the lack of outlet for Charity's titanic energy being the basis for her domination of Sid. If Charity had a real job, she would have left Sid much more alone. I'm not sure Sid would have enjoyed that, either. There is a real symbiotic relationship there, at one level. Going back to Charity's underemployment, it would have been interesting to see these characters without Sid's money to provide child care. Mothering five children without help might have stemmed the flood of energy which powered the marriage. The situation then would have resembled more closely the marriage in ANGLE OF REPOSE, although I can't imagine Charity ever yielding to Sid, even if she were saddled with a dozen children. As Stegner has Larry point out, the story in CTS is as much about friendship as it is about marriage, though, and I was fascinated by the interplay of the four characters and how their friendships endured all sorts of stress and change. They reached a balance between their differences and their similarities; Larry didn't confront Charity as much during the later years of the friendship as he did at first, for one thing. Sid chose Charity for reasons that he probably didn't understand, out of complementary strengths and weaknesses that formed the structure of the their marriage. I don't see the relationship as a horror story. I was interested to see Dale's reference to Stegner's sources for the story being somewhat autobiographical, especially in light of the exchange between Hallie and Larry about the problems of putting real people, your friends to boot, into a book. Stegner seems to have drawn on actual stories and actual people a good deal. AOR was based on real letters from Mary Hallock Foote. How closely an author works with real people and events is very interesting to me. I remember a remark either by or about Thomas Wolfe in this regard. He was described as not only working with real people as his characters, which arguably all authors do to some extent, but giving their real names and telephone numbers. In LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL, the twin brothers in the Gant family have the same first names as Wolfe's real brothers, Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland. I seem to remember that Wolfe's family was not thrilled at the close correspondences between the Wolfes and the Gants. Felix Miller (http://caladan.chattanooga.net/~dreedle) 3/31/96 8:03PM ET =============== Reply 3 of Note 5 =================  
To: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Date: 04/01 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 7:49 PM Felix-- Your note made me think of a couple of things that gave me pause while I was reading CTS. That tea bag scene was really a crucial one and I thought about it for a long time. It seemed so likely that Sid would take that moment to say, "See, I was right!", but instead he tosses those bags into the fire and continues their fiction. Full participant in the drama is a wonderful description. By using that, Stegner pretty much defined their relationship. And, in the beginning, I kept wondering who was taking care of Charity's children until they finally described the caregiver situation. I'm sure that money is what enabled Charity to move her controlling personality to new heighths. If she'd had some of the daily drudgery of taking care of all those children and that house by herself, it might have taken the edge off of all that energy. And, like you, I must say that I'm still fascinated by the interplay of all those characters. Authors who can do this well are at the top of my favorites list. Barb

 
Stegner
Wallace Stegner

 
I finished CTS this week and thought it was wonderful. Jane, I too am intrigued by the names of the females. In fact, I'm intrigued by many aspects of this book.
Adele
 
Charity is one of the most unforgettable characters in fiction to me, a tremendously complicated and contradictory person who combines the very best and worst humans are capable of in the same personality.
Dale in Ala.
 
...I was fascinated by the interplay of the four characters and how their friendships endured all sorts of stress and change. They reached a balance between their differences and their similarities.
Felix

 
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