by Judy Westergard
oil on canvas, 24" x 24"
on exhibit thrugh September 30 at Water and Oil Gallery, St. Paul, MN
It must be almost a quarter of a century since I fell in love with Wallace Stegner’s books. Among my favorites was Crossing to Safety. I relished that thoughtful, poignant story of a strong friendship of two couples from their days as grad students and young wives in the 1930’s through the next 45 years. The characters were real and true...people I wanted to know.
A few days ago I finished rereading the book. I was surprised at what a difference a couple of decades make in my take on a story. The first time I was enthralled with the the complicated dance steps that it takes to keep a friendship going through professional successes and failures, through the ups and downs of incomes, through the demands of children and careers. I read with the eagerness of wanting to know what happened next. Stegner didn’t disappoint.
This time I read it more slowly. I still savored the intricacies of the characters’ friendship but this time I noticed Stegner's depth and subtlety as a writer. His knowledge of the natural world, his understanding of women, and his ability to create honest characters made me think long and hard about friends I’ve lost, friends I’ve kept, and why.
I remember how angry I was when Stegner died. I’d read everything he’d written; I wanted more! I've since discovered the gift of rereading his work. The greater gift, though, is that through that rereading I learned more about myself and the people around me. And isn’t that what a good writer should do?