Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reviewing a book by Wallace Stegner is difficult, because a little research shows that he led an admirable life, dedicated to writing, history, and environmental activism. He won a Pulitzer in 1972 and the U.S. National Book Award in 1977. He also started and led an acclaimed writing program at Stanford University. But I'm not reviewing his life, I'm reviewing one specific book.

Crossing To Safety is my introduction to his writing and it left me feeling awe with some aspects and disappointment with others.

I love Stegner's writing. Here are some of my favorite metaphors/similes:

Meeting his eyes was like taking hold of a hot wire.
She's dividing herself like some inexhaustible Eucharist. She's going around to everybody she loves, saying. 'Take, eat, this is my body.'

Some of my favorite descriptions:

Her eyes were suspicious and pocketed in radiating wrinkles.
The skimpy whorl on the top of his tanned skull reminded me of something Lyle Lister had told me once, … that south of the Equator the crowns and cowlicks of the natives, like the whirlpools in bathtub drains, go counterclockwise, the opposite of the way they go up here.

Some of my favorite moments of self-examining thought:

Can I think of anyone in my whole life who I have liked without his first showing signs of liking me?
She saw objectives, not obstacles, and she did not let her uncomplicated confidence get clouded by other people's doubts, or other people's facts. Or even other people's feelings.

Despite my admiration for the writing, I found it easy to put the book down and was never excited to pick it up. Some of my reaction has to do with the plot. It is about relationships and how they weather life. It's the type of plot that has the reader thinking about what happened rather than wondering what will happen next. Another aspect that put me off a bit, was a pretentious feel in some of the dialogue. Larry Morgan and Sid Lang both taught in university liberal arts departments and were able to do some literary name dropping. Here's an example of that:

This door was yanked open, exposing the brilliantly lighted interior, and in the doorway stood – who? Theseus and Ariadne? Troilus and Criseyde? Rusian and Liudmila?

Maybe most readers would do better, but I only recognized 1 of those 3 couples, which I assume are all from classic poetry.

Crossing To Safety is about people who get less out of life than they expected, then, while looking back, become aware that they got more than they thought they had. I recommend it to people who like well written, introspective novels.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

View all my reviews

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