Modern Gods is a split-personality book, attempting to tell the parallel stories of two sisters, one filming a bizarre cargo cult in Papua New Guinea and the other attempting to make peace with the discovery that her new husband was once a terrorist. The two stories could perhaps come together with some logical tie, except that they do not — and the cargo-cult film does not seem to really get anywhere except, as cults are likely to go, to a bad end.
That said, what happens to terrorists after they get out of prison is a very interesting theme, and the author shows nuanced perspectives from the perpetrator himself, his new wife (who surely asked too few questions ahead of time), and the community as a whole. I love that part.
The author of Once We Were Sisters is convinced that her sister’s husband murdered her. He most definitely beat her, repeatedly and savagely, but it seems that, had he wanted to kill her, he would have had access to other methods than driving their car into a tree, without having to himself suffer serious injuries. No matter, the story is about her relationship with her sister, forged against complicated parenting from their mother, a dreadful if indulgent education, and poor husband choices for both of them. It’s a wonderful portrait of sisterly love. Somehow it left me rather cold, including the awful abuse, perhaps because many of the bad decisions are based on hanging on to the very comfortable family wealth.
Lucky Us is the story of two half-sisters trying to make a life with no help from their parents who are dead, gone, or pretty much uninvolved. The author manages to meld historical research and imagined letters between the sisters into a coherent narrative with many interesting characters, including the sisters of course, with their sometimes puzzling life choices, but also the remaining parent (who is portrayed not as a loser but as a flawed but congenial man), and assorted friends and hangers-on with their own backstories. For instance, their on-time employer could be portrayed solely as a nouveau riche with social anxieties for herself and her children, but she is also shown attending their father’s funeral, which does her social climbing no favors.
And while the sisters are not lucky at all, the story is not gloomy.