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Book Review: Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half” astonishes

If you haven’t added Brit Bennett’s novel “The Vanishing Half” to your reading list, now is the time to do so. Coming off the international success of her debut “The Mothers” in 2016, Bennett lives up to her incredible writing abilities and more with this second novel.

“The Vanishing Half” follows the lives of twin sisters Desiree and Stella Vignes, and in part, their fictional hometown of Mallard, Louisiana—a town exclusively founded by their great-great-great grandfather for light-skinned Blacks in the region. The town became a haven for people like Desiree and Stella, yet it didn’t save their father from the lynching that will be a permanent stain on their childhoods. Nor did it save them from the chokehold Mallard has on the twins’ lives.

Desiree and Stella run away to New Orleans, yet are split apart by circumstance and betrayal a year later. As their lives go on further and further apart, we find out the cost of their secrets and abandonment nearly half a century later when their daughters’ lives intersect.

Bennett’s usage of twins as a literary device to capture both the Vignes sisters and their daughters dualities was a genius choice as the novel unfolds in time-jumping episodes throughout the novel. To tell the sisters’ lives, the narrative shifts between generations and characters to reveal the betrayals that ultimately led to the sisters' separation and duality.

The narrative is meticulously told with the reverance of someone retelling their own family history. Bennett doesn’t overcompensate and throw around flowery words—she writes with the assuredness of a writer with 20 years of experience that knows how to hold her readers in the palm of her hands without force.

Rather than shoveling into the dirt and gossip of nearly 50 years, Bennett carefully discusses bigotry, colorism, and gender throughout the novel. There are no drawn out inner thoughts about these issues, rather they are handled like how any one of us would—with quiet and pithy contemplation while delving further than the surface level of multigenerational issues.

Although the novel is set between the late 1940s and 1990s, the social issue conversations parallel the same ones happening today on the Internet. Desiree and Stella’s perspectives on colorism and white-passing within the Black community are similar ones I hear in classes or on the Internet. It’s refreshing to hear these issues discussed in a context that isn’t word vomit or pretentious babblings, rather personal musings based on experience.

Only two novels out and Bennett’s writing exceeds her fellow writers in creating compelling characters and telling stories so often overlooked by the rest of the world.

Thankfully, HBO has acquired the rights for a limited series based on “The Vanishing Half.” By this time next year, we’ll have this timeless story on TV screens everywhere.

Follow me on Instagram @bergreadstoomuch for more!


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