What makes a marriage work? What makes a relationship last? How does work influence marriage? How does marriage influence work? How important is it to make time to see friends? These are questions that come up frequently in psychotherapy. Wallace Stegner’s 1987 classic novel on love, literature, friendship and marriage illuminates the timeless quality of these questions. They were as relevant in 1937 when this novel begins, as they were in 1972 when the novel ends, as they are today.
Following a brief opening chapter set in 1972, the novel flashes back to the beginning, as protagonist Larry Morgan tells the tale of his life, his marriage, his trials as a writer, and his transformational friendship with friend and colleague Sid Lang. Sally and Larry Morgan are young newlyweds settling into a Wisconsin college town where Larry is thrilled to find an entry level position in the English Department. The year is 1937 and the Depression has made such positions almost extinct. Sally is pregnant, their budget is tiny, but their love is palpable:
“Even with milk at five cents a quart and eggs at twelve cents a dozen and hamburger at thirty cents a pound, there would be little enough for drink or entertainment. Scratch those… In a way, it is beautiful to be young and hard up. With the right wife, and I had her, deprivation becomes a game. In the next two weeks we spent a few dollars on white paint and dotted swiss, and were settled.”
Larry works tirelessly to generate additional income, publishes promising short stories, and attempts to establish his teaching credentials. Sally creatively makes ends meet and keeps her life interesting through sparking a friendship with Larry’s colleague’s wife, Charity Lang. Soon, the glamorous Langs invite the wholesome Morgans to a dinner party, and the friendship that forms changes their lives forever.
“Both of us were peculiarly susceptible to friendship. When the Langs opened their house and their hearts to us, we crept gratefully in. Crept? Rushed. Coming from meagerness and low expectations, we felt their friendship as freezing travelers feel a dry room and a fire. Crowded in, rubbing our hands with satisfaction, and were never the same thereafter. Thought better of ourselves, thought better of the world.”
The trajectories of the Morgans and the Langs tell a captivating tale about the complex dynamics that define a marriage. Sally, Larry, Charity and Sid must learn in their own ways to balance separateness and togetherness. They struggle to come to terms with the unforeseen obstacles that no couples setting out to make a life together can predict they will face. Stegner’s writing transports readers to another era, while his observations about marriage and friendship are timeless:
“What I am sure of is that friendship — not love, friendship – is as possible between women as between men, and that in either case it is often stronger for not having to cross sexual picket lines. Sexuality and mistrust often go together, and both are incompatible with amicitia.”
If you are struggling to face adversity in your marriage, or you are trying to figure out how to balance marriage, work, friendship and love, Crossing to Safety will offer a fresh and inspiring perspective.