Lean Fall Stand: A Novel
“Lean Fall Stand is a narrative about hope, surrender, and possibilities. Jon McGregor is an extraordinary writer, a shepherd of perfect prose.”
On the first page of Lean Fall Stand, Jon McGregor gives us a glimpse into the world of language his novel explores: "People said these things, but the words didn't always fit in."
Thomas Myers, Luke Adebayo, and Robert "Doc" Wright are at Station K, Antarctica, to "clean up all the shit that Doc and his colleagues had left behind over the last three decades," to "keep the ski way operational," and to survey the area. The story opens with the three men working outside. A storm hits without warning, and they become separated. What follows is a story of endurance and dedication.
Doc's wife Anna is awakened by a phone call, "It's Robert. It's your husband. I'm sorry to wake you. We need you to come." A phrase that would haunt her mornings with "A bit of a stroke" added to the repetitive string of words.
Anna leaves their home in the UK and arrives in Santiago, Chile. In a taxi, she remembers a conversation with Robert in the corner of the Red Lion, December 1984, and thinks, "Robert was an exception, of sorts. He had a lot to say, but he also knew how to listen. He asked questions and considered the answers with care." She had told him "about her research in anthropogenic modelling." Anna is an exceptional woman: strong, academic, patient.
At the hospital, Anna discovers the extent of Robert's stroke. He has difficulty speaking, and when he does, his words are jumbled and nonsensical. When they settle back home in Cambridge, their two grown children witness the extent of the stroke on their father and scramble to fit his illness into their own lives. Anna's work is placed on hold as she takes up her new life as carer, teacher, homemaker.
The sheer beauty of this story, the reality of the characters and their situations, and McGregor's powerful, elegant, and flawless writing are testament to the amount of work—research, patience, writing—required to write this story. The reader can open the book randomly, read a piece of dialogue, and know, without question, which character is speaking—every word, staggered syllable, and fractured blurb of speech perfectly matched to its owner like a game of concentration.
In chapter seven, McGregor walks us through Anna's day, building tension, imparting her exhaustion and loneliness: "She had to cut the toast into small pieces so he could eat it. She had to count out his tablets while he was eating and tick them off." "She had to ignore the phone because he needed to go to the toilet." Anna craves the Friends meeting house and attends a few meetings, finding strength and renewal in silence, away from the frustrations of Robert's aphasia.
Throughout the story, Doc is questioned by his colleagues about the fateful day of the storm in Antarctica. At the inquest, he answers, "I. Ah. Sorry. Sorry. No. No. Christ." The event remains a mystery to all but Doc, who is unable to recount what happened.
Doc's encouraged to join a support group "aimed at people who were moving into the next stages of their recovery process." In the group meetings, McGregor's skill of unearthing the courage and patience required for recovery shines, seen through broken sentences, familiar repetitive phrases, and frustrated gestures. When Amira, the group's instructor, introduces dancers, "movement therapists," to the group, a transformation occurs. Trust is gained and secured, old skills revived, and a performance planned.
This novel is about a woman, notable in the world of academics, facing what many fear: to be the primary carer for a loved one who can no longer care for themselves. Letting go of her own identity so her spouse can remember his. This narrative is one that happens daily in neighborhoods, and McGregor brings this experience home to us all, wrapped up as he brilliantly does without fancy ribbons, but in brown paper, reality, and magnificent writing.
Lean Fall Stand is a narrative about hope, surrender, and possibilities. Jon McGregor is an extraordinary writer, a shepherd of perfect prose.