How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is a suitably evocative and thought-provoking title for the powerful story that this book holds between its covers. The title refers to a cautionary tale about girls who break the rules, told to one of our lead characters, Lala, by her grandmother. Not that she really takes heed of it, as Lala’s life is not an easy one.
Opening sentence: Lala comes home and Wilma is waiting, having returned early from visiting Carson at the hospital.
Set in a small beachside town in (mainly) 1980s Barbados, teenage Lala finds herself pregnant and married to a man that her grandmother Wilma (who raised her) does not approve of. For good reason, it turns out.
The story opens with a traumatic birth. I wasn’t quite prepared for the tragedy that we are thrown straight into with Lala and her baby. While Lala is the character we discover most about, the book also follows other local people and we see how their lives influence each other.
The back stories of the characters reveals the rich but troubled history of life around Baxter’s Beach and the story explores how trauma can harrowingly transcend generations.
Lala truly gave this novel its heart. I really cared about her and was rooting for her to buck the cycle she’s been born into and let her natural strength and resilience shine through.
Mira Whalen is another character that really interested me. Also a native of Barbados, she marries into money and lives a very different life from Lala. Though not without its traumas – she is dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s murder.
Extremes of anything are bad, and the two extremes of possession – deprivation and deluge – are especially crippling to the soul.
The beautiful way How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is written works so well to contrast the violence that you’re sometimes reading about. There is a particularly memorable section on Lala desperately trying to find someone who can pronounce her lyrical name in the way she wants it to be truly said, that has stayed with me.
I would caveat this book by saying this is one of the most graphic I’ve read in regards to domestic violence and baby loss. Some pages were really hard to read and truly put my heart in my stomach. But while it wasn’t necessarily a comfortable read, it was addictive. The pulsing tone and exquisite language running through it just demanded that you keep reading.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is the debut from Cherie Jones and I’ll defintiely be keeping an eye out for what she writes next.