How The One Armed Sister Sweeps Her House begins with a cautionary myth told to Lala by her grandmother. An attempt to protect her from the startling hurt that follows generations of women in their family under the guise of love. It is a small, very intentionally told myth that will eventually seep through all the pages until you begin to contemplate how myths and stories fashion characters. How they fashion us
When Lala does grow up, she marries an extremely dangerous man. Like other poor inhabitants of Baxter’s Beach, their story is miles from the idyllic, tropical scenes sold to the tourists who came to party. But their tale will intersect with these holiday makers’. Surviving him means she has to grapple with who she has been taught to be, what she believes is virtuous. A burglary gone wrong ends in a gunshot and murder that no one was meant to witness. A very loved baby is found lifeless on the beach. Desperation, fear and grief are laced through every motive in the fast paced, intersecting narratives.
Interesting thing is this sounded like a crime fiction which I would usually avoid but I am very glad this landed in my hands! I felt this engaging, intense read right from the start. Incredibly character driven but with a very dynamic plot- the story does not sit still for a second!
Myth and interconnection tie the characters
The book viscerally portrays interconnected lives, across class, gender and race but ultimately- this is about stories. The stories we create about others to reassure ourselves. Or to absolve others. Or to absolve ourselves. Myths we create to embolden, to protect, deter. Facades. Who has the authority to create the story that is ultimately believed and why?
The reader is naturally urged to conjure their own stories about characters as the book progresses. Jones can take a scene, a character, a relationship- allow your preconceptions, allow your own version of a story- and then unravel, leaving you to accept that you never could have seen the truth for yourself. There are hardly any bystanders in this book, every character seems intentional – from destitute citizens to the monied tourists, no arc is wasted.
Women through generations
I’m always interested generational stories- generations of women, even better. Through Lala, Wilma and Mira’s stories, How The One Armed Sister Sweeps Her House explores many themes around how women and girls are placed in society. There are myths people create about women who they don’t understand. There are myths people created to suppress women. Women accepting blame, women remaining spirited through adversity. Motherhood in it’s many versions. Those born to us, those not. Marriage- what is it for? Who do we believe it serves and why? What is afforded to men on the privilege of masculinity and why should women accept it? An exploration of a patriarchal culture that leaves women very little agency at differing levels of society.
I’ve read about four books over the past 6 months that feature intersecting character perspectives and move back and forth through varying time frames (60s-80s in this case). How The One Armed Sister Sweeps Her House definitely stands out. It wasn’t an easy read- there is violence and sexual assault that made me flinch, although the aspects were integral to the story. There is a little bit in the ending that I wasn’t a hundred on! But it is still a brilliant read, didn’t take me long at all. The writing is vivid and easy. The story telling is deft.
Oh, there is also a genuine love story in there somewhere. I won’t spoil it for you
How The One Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is the debut novel by Cherie Jones, Published by Tinder Press (Headline Books) on 21st Jan 2020
Thanks to Tinderpress for the review copy