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Thomas at My Porch

I read this book several years ago and really enjoyed it. I have also read Stegner's Angle of Repose, which is listed on the Modern Libraries list of the top 100 novels of the 20th century. It was also very good, but I preferred the subject matter in Crossing to Safety.


I read this book two years ago and loved it. I think it's one of the best books I've read. It is the painful honesty of this book in portraying life’s happiness, joy, pathos and sorrow that touched me the most and made it a book to remember and treasure. The descriptions of how the couples deal with ambition, the disappointments of failed ambition, illness and death are so poignant.

I also loved Crossing to Safety.


I found this a very moving and eloquent story.Stegner's descriptions of nature and landscape are wonderful as is his characterisation. You experience the people as well as the places in which they live.
Despite Charity being insufferably bossy, always determined to do things right and doesn't care what anyone else thinks, I grew to respect her. She is both loveable and detestable and she will stay in my memory.
This is a very warm and affecting book and I'm so glad I've read it.

Mary McCartney

Great choice, Cornflower. I'm still mulling over it several days after finishing it. There were tantalising glimpses but I'd have loved to know more about how the children, especially Lang, were affected by Charity's bossiness and Sally's illness.

adele geras

Coming a bit late to this discussion today as I've been out but LOVED this book and was very grateful to have discovered a novelist who's really special. I think one of the best things about this book is the subject matter. I can't think of many books which deal with the friendship between TWO COUPLES. The ebbings and flowings of various feelings and emotions was brilliantly done and the way that deep love for your friends is also bound up with things like envy and sexual attraction and all kinds of delicate comings and goings around money and relative status etc. Fabulous stuff and reminded me powerfully at times of wonderful William Maxwell. I'm about to embark on Angle of Repose, and looking forward to that too.

Mr Cornflower

I came to this completely blind, never even having heard of the author. Having enjoyed it I now want to read more Stegner - he struck me as a fresh and distinctive voice, a convincing story-teller and last but not least a fine prose stylist. Take this sentence for example:

"After all, we had been programmed in the same system, stuffed like Strasbourg geese with the best that has been thought and said in the world during man's long struggle upward from spontaneity to cliche."

It takes real craft to pass from one stepping stone bromide ('best that has been thought and said') to the next ('man's long struggle upwards') before abruptly removing the last and confronting the reader with a neat last word twist.


Being a very slow reader when it comes to 'foreign' languages I havenot yet finished Crossing to Safety. However I am already far enough into the story to think it probable that Wallace Stegner at the end of this year will be my second cherished discovery of 2009. William Maxwell being the first. So thank you Cornflower for pointing me in (t)his direction.


I am very after the fact I'm afraid as I only started on Saturday, sorry to be so behind.
I really enjoyed this book and for me it was the best of what a book group can do, I'd never heard of it and wouldn't have picked it up otherwise. So thank you for the recommendation.

Several things I thought were interesting. The book is an account of female friendship, and the tolerance within a marriage for those tight and potentially excluding relationships that occur between women sometimes. What makes this unlike any other book I've read on this theme is that it's written by a man. Larry has an analytical approach to the friendship he has with Sid and an ambivalence bordering on hostility to Charity, but despite all her faults he can't help grudgingly admiring her. He says over and over that 'she's always right' after discussing her strong and unbendable will, though it's pitched as though it's very much a fault to be a wife that is right and not pliant. But it's clear that Larry (or Stegner - from the Penguin Modern Classics Intro I think there's a fair bit of overlap) benefits hugely from being taken under the wing of the other couple and without Charity's plotting he admits his future would have been far less certain. She engineers his job opportunity with uncle Richard and he is freed from the constraints of academia as a result. I wonder if Charity were a male character if he'd have drawn her so unsympathetically. She's a modern woman in many ways, networking, juggling children and good works whilst also being glamorous and beautiful.

The final nail in the coffin for the Charity character is the way in which she plans and controls everything around her death. Again, I don't find this so strange or heartless. It's normal that the palliative patient thinks about their death, decides ahead how they'd like it to happen and tries to protect those they love from seeing them in pain or vulnerable. It's also not uncommon for couples to talk about what might happen to the partner once they are alone, and giving permission for another marriage or relationship can help the process of grieving for both. It's clear Charity cherishes Sid, excluding him is presented as cruel beyond belief, but to end a life lived with vigour and will with a death of giving in and milksops wouldn't wash with this type of woman. Larry and Sid seem to admit this to each other, whilst dealing badly with the pain of losing someone they love.

Final thought - descriptive writing is difficult and often skipped over by me (and I suspect others). But the landscapes and close-ups are superbly drawn here, the opening passage and the dawn walk in the woods is particularly beautiful and something I will return to.


Having read Walter Stegner for the first time, thank you Cornflower Book group, I am moved and impressed by such beautiful and lyrical writing. The viewpoint of the relationships between the characters tells the reader more by what is not revealed than by what is stated. I loved this book. I loved the descriptions of place, I loved the characters and I loved the fact that Charity loved Sid so much that she wanted to protect him right to the end. Was she that much of a shrew or just needed to micro-manage all those around? We generally have people in our lives who we love but, despite recognising their flaws, continue to love them regardless. Larry and Sally seem to love Charity and Sid with the reservations that a couple in their own intimacy may feel necessary to put in place to establish a certain distance or space. I loved this reading experience and have spread the word about such a wonderful and insightful book to all my reading friends. Thank you

Susie Vereker

Sorry to be late. While I admired this novel and the excellent writing, I wasn't much moved by it. Charity was a wonderfully vivid character, but I felt distant from the others and the events described, too long ago, too far away. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for this slow enfolding type of book as I found myself skipping. Will try it again one peaceful summer holiday.
Loved Henrietta's War, though.

Dark Puss

Dear Oxslip, sadly I didn't manage to borrow a copy and thus cannot contribute properly. I was interested however by your comment "and the tolerance within a marriage for those tight and potentially excluding relationships that occur between women sometimes." Why do you not think such tolerated relationships exist between men and women (other than married pairs of course!) and indeed men and men? Perhaps this is a comment that will only make sense to me in the context of this particular book?


Barbara MacLeod

A wonderful book which I have only just finished today. Lots of it resonated with me as I am (roughly) the age of the narrator. As a youngster I spent all my summer holidays at a summer cottage ('the cabin') in the 50's and recall with fondness the campfires and night skies filled with stars.

Some points:

[1] What is the book about? Amicitia. I had to look that up (hence the reason it took me so long to finish the book!)

[2] Larry made an observation that I too have noticed on several occasions over the years, something which always intrigued me. "Some things that astonish Sally - hard beds, hard chairs, unfinished walls, Ivory soap, no liquor harder than sherry - could not dispel the impression I got of a simplicity expensively purchased and self-consciously cherished, a naturalness as artificial as the Petite Trianon...." I recall being a guest in a similar situation - years ago - and couldn't help noticing that the hostess (my friend) deliberately wiped her paint covered hands on her (Jaeger?) trousers presumably to be like the rest of us in our non-Jaeger togs.

[3] The notion of Charity's "sundial theory of art, which would count no hours but the sunny ones." I liked that! Very thought-provoking!

[4] Cant (language): At the end of the story Larry is thinking about their friendship and muses "The cant word these days is 'bonding'." Now that, i.e. cant language, is a fascinating topic! While I think cant is more to do with secret language of various groups of people, I think here he is using it to mean a term that has come into everyday use. An example nowadays might be a word teenagers tend to use: 'wicked' meaning 'good'.

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