“The Vanishing Half” | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
After success with her debut “The Mothers,” Brit Bennett’s back with another winner.
“The Vanishing Half” is the engrossing tale of black female twins raised in Mallard, a “strange” southern community that places high value on light-skinned black people. Much of the story is set in 1968, when demonstrations turned violent and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.
In this page turner, with discussable themes, Desiree Vignes, one of the twins returns to Mallard with a daughter who’s “blue black . . . Like she was flown in from Africa,” a turn of events that has townspeople talking. Fourteen years earlier, Desiree and her twin Stella disappeared after a dance, and no one has heard from them since. Now Desiree is back, having fled an abusive marriage to Sam, a “dark” man who will do anything to get her back.
Going home isn’t easy for Desiree. “A town always looked different once you’d return, like a house where all the furniture had shifted three inches.” Desiree also is unsure about the welcome she’ll get from her mother who doesn’t take kindly to her daughter’s marriage — a union that produced Jude.
Desiree pines for her sister who she hasn’t seen for years. After the twins left Mallard at 16 to find jobs in New Orleans, Stella changed. To locate her, Desiree enlists the help of an old flame, a “finder” who tracks Stella, but then loses her, having no idea Stella has passed herself off as white and married Barry, an affluent executive. Barry and Stella move to a white, upper crust subdivision in California where they raise their blond daughter Kennedy, a spitfire intent on acting, much to her mother’s chagrin.
The story fast-forwards to 1978 with Desiree’s daughter’s move to California to attend college, a move that changes and expands Jude’s life, as it does Kennedy’s.
“The Vanishing Half” is beautiful, a novel rife with complicated characters certain to open readers’ eyes on contemporary issues. Book clubs are certain to welcome Bennett’s newest.