Crossing to Safety

Wallace Stegner’s writes about literary idealism born in higher education (conscientiously and unquestioningly) and enduring lifelong friendship. Permeating his book, the culture of higher education is as much a character as his wife Sally. It moves and shapes tragedies, mundane parties and deepest failure. The most intimate moments are marked by quoting poets taught in academia, friendships invigorated by scholarship or the very tangible lack of it.

But as the novel progresses this idealism unconsciously fades, revealing unchanging human themes: hard work, family obligations, personal tragedies, a woman with a stubborn streak. 

In the novel Stegner (I’m using the author’s name purposefully, he is as much Larry as he is himself in this novel, and his loves, I believe, are the same) is as much in love with his friend’s wife as he is with academia. Her sparkle and illimitable preferences mark his core struggle with life as much as his efforts for acceptance in academia. He loves and hates her, is eternally indebted to her, inspired by her. She provides structure to his life, and he resents her control, and her control of the people he loves that are not so successful. He is empathetic, resentful, in love, at once fully indoctrinated, and self-conscious and accepting enough to apathetically resent his own success and others’ lack of it.

(Perhaps that’s my own bias - growing up in a household so familiar with that same culture. Passed down from my grandma to my dad and then me. Rooted deep in me as I coped to not fail in dance, and then dabbled in ‘excellence’ in english lit. I understand the love of words, the yearn of academic and artistic success and failing from that world too. I think of a story Dan Allender told about the university; In medieval times the first son would inherit the estate and manage property, which included military training and protecting his lands. To make himself a livelihood the  second son would join the church, perhaps run the parish for his family’s estate. The third son would join academia and teach at a university, forever battling his low position and fighting for honor at his low ‘youngest’ position. Perhaps that’s too Freudian but something rings true.)

Just as academia is the driving force in the novel, acceptance and time shape the characters. Muted grief and failure that continues day after day, as life does. We eat, sleep, rub the sore muscles and broken hearts and work, raise children, make mistakes.

I hope my life has more joy then Larry Morgan’s. That at the end of my life I can access my joy.


Facebook and instagram swallowed me whole. Six years later I was regurgitated, pop-culture competent and a Katy Perry fan. Post SNL, buzzfeed, and 300 character ideological spats I’m happy to find that my core view of the world is essentially the same: people are people, even the cool ones. And I can live my life much happier and more broadly just as I do it.