A review by angelayoung
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, by Cherie Jones

adventurous challenging dark emotional funny hopeful informative reflective sad tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


I was immediately engaged by The One-Armed Sister - and emotional engagement is what I long for in any art form. And I was immediately impressed by Jones's ease in different voices, different persons (you, we) and the use of what I discover are known as modal verbs, verbs that express necessity or possibility (you can be ... we could be). (And this is a first novel.) I was especially impressed because Jones employs all these textual tricks seamlessly (I didn't notice until I'd read for at least a few paragraphs each time). But everything she does, grammatically, textually, technically, serves the story, is buried in the story. I didn't notice the tricks, I noticed that my heart was beating faster, that I was suddenly inside a different person's head, that I felt complicit in the harsh events of the story. Jones truly knows what she's doing technically AND how to tell a story well.

And it is a well-told story. All the voices interlock and just as you're asking yourself how this? or why that? the answers turn up in someone else's story, or a few pages further on in the same story. Jones is mistress of what George Saunders, in A Swim in a Pond in the Rain calls Call and Response (he doesn't like technical terms like structure): in Call and Response in a novel, the writer is always aware of the questions she's planting in her readers' minds and, because the writer knows she's always in dialogue with her reader, in Call and Response with her reader, she has a duty to provide the answers.

I know I've already said I hope Piranesi wins the Women's Prize this year (2021), but now I hope The One-Armed Sister will win. The judges are going to have a hard time deciding ... .