Four years ago, I started my review of Jon McGregor’s Tank 13 with a eulogy for this writer who seems to outdo himself with every new book. His new novel, Lean Fall Stand, continues this progress with the story of a man who returns irrevocably changed from his beloved Antarctica and his wife who must find a way to take care of him. All the ice and snow, and the sea and the sky. Glaciers and ridges and icebergs and rocks. Weathering and wind-shape and shear. The sky was so clear that the distances decreased and all the colors sparkled.
Robert is a technical assistant who has spent much of the last thirty years in Antarctica helping scientists. He is almost at the end of his time with Luke and Thomas, who have updated the maps he remembers. He’s an old rabbit, eager to share his stories; they’re a bit pejorative, but fully aware that it’s Robert’s skills that will keep them alive. In recent days, Thomas decides to capture the landscape with the camera that his girlfriend gave him. This is an outing that is going to end catastrophically, something Anna has been waiting for for her entire marriage to Robert. Called to Santiago, she knows her husband had a stroke, but not the extent of his damage.
Her marriage is based on an” anomaly”, as she likes to call it, which fits her career and offers her an independence that she takes almost for granted. Robert’s return turns everything upside down. Her children do not seem to understand what happened, bombard them with unrealistic proposals, their employers are worried and always expect her to meet deadlines. Only Bridget, the widow of Robert’s best friend and colleague, understands the situation, perhaps more than Anna herself. When Robert is persuaded to join a support group, he hesitates, but it turns out to be a salvation for him and, perhaps, for Anna.
He always had to look for the words. As if they were placed on a high shelf in stores
The title of McGregor’s novel follows the trajectory of Roberts’ stroke, from the storm expedition to rehabilitation, in which he becomes a completely different man from the one who accompanied Thomas and Luke to Station K. while Lean breathlessly captures the disorientation and disorder of Robert’s storm and stroke, fall and stand stand out for their empathetic portrayal of the consequences. Robert’s loss of speech is a blow-he is a proud man who loves to tell nothing more than a story taken away from him by aphasia and his frustrations. The scenes of the Support Group are particularly skillfully drawn, the language of each member is different, some profane, others almost poetic, depicted with a soft and compassionate humor, a compassion that extends to the representation of Anna’s ambivalence in relation to her new role as supervisor. It ends with what reads almost like a prose poem, a description of what happened to Robert in Antarctica, in silent contrast to the frantic Passage in which he struggles for understanding when the stroke struck him. A calm and powerful book that is not afraid to explore the boundaries of language.