Wallace Stegner

Crossing to Safety - Wallace Stegner

As you dig into the history of the American West, Wallace Stegner's name comes up again and again. A champion of both the West and natural spaces, his name is listed amongst the greats: Thoreau, Abbey, Steinbeck, Muir. 

I didn't discover him until recently, in this year of naturalism, introspection, and Western exploration I've been having. As I've become more engrossed in the outdoors, and driven to rediscover the Montana of my childhood, Stegner's name became familiar to my ear. 

After hearing a segment on NPR upon the anniversary of his death, I stumbled across this Stegner book in the library one day. I wasn't seeking it out, it just popped up. I had a sudden paroxysm of doubt--this didn't look like a Western novel. Was I sure I had the right author? Was it Wallace Stegner who I was thinking of? Could I trust my memory? 


I didn't realize this Western great wrote fiction. I'd heard his name lumped in with Abbey's so many times that I assumed he too wrote non-fiction treatises in defense of natural spaces. I assumed he fought to keep the West wild. How lucky we are that Stegner did write fiction. He graced us with his prose. 

I'm only halfway through Crossing to Safety, but already I can tell it's one of the best books on modern life I've ever read. In a way, the book is like Seinfeld, the show about nothing. Nothing much in particular happens. Two couples make their way through life, living and laughing and crying and getting old like the best of us. Yet, Stegner's prose takes your breath away. He has a way of noticing the mundane, everyday moments in life. It makes your heart sing. 

Stegner's turn of phrase is warm and gentle, as if he's noticed the suffering inherent to life and decided not to bring any more suffering to life through his words. 

It is a relationship that has no formal shape, there are no rules and no obligations or bonds as in marriage or the family, it is held together by neither law nor property nor blood, there is no glue in it but mutual liking. It is therefore rare.

Larry Morgan, Stegner's narrator, is reflecting on friendship and the fullness it brings to life.

Stegner's writing brings a similar fullness to my life.