December Selection: Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety

December selection. I have wanted to read more Wallace Stegner, but here’s the short comment from Julie Schumacher that prompted me to choose it for our December reading. She writes, “Writers still the smoldering ashes of their lives in search of sparks. Stegner’s fictional novelist Larry Morgan does so too, as he looks back through the decades of his literary career, one inextricably tied to his (and his disabled wife’s) intimate friendship with another couple. Sid and Charity Lang are wealthy, the Morgans decidedly not; but Larry Morgan has become a successful writer, while Sid Lang has not – having failed to publish his poems and chosen instead to concentrate on the security of tenure. “Why is it so important to be safe?” Larry Morgan asks. Stegner’s plot moves seamlessly back and forth across the decades – from the time when the Morgans and the Langs first meet until death parts them. The novel contemplates, subtly and eloquently, how art is made from the stuff of daily experience and, along the way, how an inevitable sense of failure can haunt the lives of writers: “Though I have been busy, perhaps overbuys, all my life,” Larry Morgan reflects, “it seems to me now that I have accomplished little that matters, that the books have never come up to what was in my head.”

This seems just the sort of story that a group of old dogs can bite into and chew upon.

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One Response to December Selection: Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety

  1. Ron Boothe says:

    Obituary in NYT today about Ivan Doig, another writer with Montana roots. He published 16 fiction and nonfiction books, most set in the Rocky Mountains of Montana where he grew up. In academic circles his writings were often eclipsed by the penumbra of Wallace Steigner, and in 2007 he received the Wallace Stegner Award, but he characterized his own writing style as: “I come from the lariat proletariat, the working-class point of view.” He did not consider himself to be a regional writer: “I don’t think of myself as a ‘Western’ writer … To me, language — the substance on the page, that poetry under the prose — is the ultimate ‘region,’ the true home, for a writer.”

    Having grown up in Montana myself, I read the books of both Stegner and Doig filtered through the warm nostalgia of shared memories about what life was like growing up in Montana before it became yupified. They will both be missed.

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