How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones: A review
Adan was tall and handsome and Lala was completely infatuated with him. She started sneaking out of the house at night to meet him and soon the inevitable happened; she got pregnant. Adan wanted her to get rid of it, but Lala really wanted a baby and she managed to convince Adan that it would be a good thing to have the baby and raise it together. He agreed to have her move in with him so she packed all of her belongings in a string bag meant for groceries and went to his house. Her grandmother recognized Adan for what he was and she washed her hands of Lala. She no longer wanted to see her granddaughter.
Adan even had a wedding ring made from a piece of gold he had stolen and he and Lala got married. Within a week after the ceremony, the beatings began. In spite of her being pregnant with his child, the abuse continued on a regular basis.
Although the island where they live in Barbados was called Paradise, there was nothing paradisical about it for many of the women who lived there. They lived in a brutal patriarchy where men were free to do anything they wanted to them. Men were not expected to control themselves. Indeed, as Wilma once told Lala, they cannot control themselves. Sexual abuse had traveled through the generations of their family. Wilma had suffered it; her daughter, Lala's mother, had suffered it and Wilma had worked very hard to keep her husband away from Lala to prevent her suffering it. This, however, made for a cold family environment for the child. Perhaps it was not surprising that Lala wanted to get out of it and create her own family.
Adan's and Lala's volatile and chaotic marriage turns fatal when Lala goes into labor while Adan is away from the house engaged in breaking and entering and armed robbery. Lala goes looking for him and finds him at a big house on the beach. The house belongs to White English tourists Peter and Mira Whalen. Actually, it did belong to Peter but now he is dead, having just been shot by Adan. We see this incident through the eyes of Mrs. Whalen, Mira. Hers becomes one of the voices that relate the story. The other voices are Lala's and Adan's gigolo friend, Tone.
Tone is an interesting character. He was actually Lala's friend before he was Adan's. He and Lala were teenage lovers but then he got into a fight and nearly killed someone and he was sent away to juvenile detention. His mother refused to tell Lala where he had gone. It was during this time that she met Adan. When Tone returned, he found Lala and Adan already married and Lala pregnant but he continued to have feelings for her.
Using alternating perspectives to tell the story and switching back and forth between the present and the backstory as the author does requires finesse but Jones possesses it in quantities. This is her debut novel and she handles all the graphic violence and ugliness of the story very capably and slowly builds the tension toward a surprising and rather satisfying conclusion. Her characters are all flawed human beings but she gives them to us with their humanity intact. Is there justice for any of these people and what exactly would that justice look like? Their home may be an island paradise for the tourists that come there but for the locals, it is a reality and a trauma that they struggle to find a way to escape.
This was a difficult book to read because of the constant brutality suffered by Lala and other women characters, but Cherie Jones presents it all masterfully. I found it hard to put down.
And how does the one-armed sister sweep her house? The answer is she finds a way. Nature always finds a way.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars