The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett
Literary Fiction, Historical
The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?
Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.
After recently reading The Mothers by Brit Bennett and adoring it, I knew this was one I had to get my hands on—and fast.
The Vanishing Half is a stunning, unique story. Following the story of two twin sisters, who over time lose themselves to the paths of their own lives. Only one sister chooses to live as a white woman, and the other as a black woman. It’s only after so many years when both of their own daughters get in contact with each other that they are forced to confront both of their messy pasts and look at what it means to be sisters after everything they’ve been through.
This was a searing exploration of race and family in 20th century America. This started a bit slow, but once I got 50 or so pages in I was absolutely hooked, much like Bennett’s debut. She’s got this extraordinary storytelling technique and her prose is nothing like I’ve ever read before. She really hooks and sinks you into the story and her use of the English language is so incredibly poetic and powerful. I noticed too that in this book as well as her debut, Bennett seems to have this unique narration style to her stories that as you’re reading it, it almost feels as if you are telling the story to yourself. Maybe I’m mad, but I loved it. I thought it added such a strong atmosphere to the book and by the halfway point, I was racing through it as if it would disappear any moment.
Brit Bennett has definitely become an author I will follow for a long time and now I can’t wait to see what she reads next. I think I enjoyed The Mothers a tiny bit more, but that’s not to take away from just how exceptional this novel was and how strong her cast of characters were. I thoroughly recommend.