Desiree and Stella Vignes are twin sisters from Mallard, a town that is comprised of Black people who have lighter and lighter skin with each generation. Hearing Brit Bennett discuss the setting, and how she came to this story, is really interesting. Highly recommend watching her interviews! The way Bennett describes Mallard, so early in this story, is suggestive of the emotive, subtle, deeply thoughtful writing to come.
A multi-generational family drama spanning from the deep south to LA over forty years, The Vanishing Half is a stunning story of how the Vignes sisters’ choices lead them in diverging directions. When their daughters lives intersect many years after a fateful moment that led to the separation, each woman, mothers and daughters, must evaluate what it means to forge your own path and whether it’s possible to belong when your belonging is rooted in secrecy.
Splitting is something that struck me while reading. First, we see the split of the twins, two sisters once inseparable now split in two, no longer plural but individual. They feel a pull to each other, but can’t seem to ever truly connect in the way they once did—the tear is too big, too ragged to make them whole. Second, Stella splits when she passes for white. She is one person in her public-facing life and another in her private life, but when they two mix, she must choose one over the other and spend her life convincing others, and herself, that her identity is singular. But identity is rarely singular, and the severity with which she must believe this begins to have long-term effects on motherhood, marriage, and familial ties.
There are so many characters and each character is extremely well-developed, and each deepens the layers and themes of this story.
I know you’ve probably seen this book everywhere, but let me just say – it lives up to the hype and more. Bennett’s voice is distinct and I couldn’t get enough of her writing. While the length is short, this one took me a while because it is so layered, complex, and thought provoking. I have so much more to say, but don’t want to spoil it. Hoping to read The Mothers soon.