The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett is a novel that weaves together the story of twins, as well as those who’s lives have been touch by them. The Vignes sisters run away from their small black town, of which the people look all the same—light-skinned black people. One twin returns to her roots and stays. The other twin fades farther into crossing over as a white woman. This novel transcends time and place to tell a story of what it means to know who you are and the illusion you create for other people.
What I liked the most about The Vanishing Half was its way of transcending time and place. I was taken on a journey spanning from the 50s and what it meant to be a light-skinned black person then, to the 90s where I saw things didn’t change that much. People who enjoy generational stories will really like this one. It isn’t linear; it doesn’t follow a progression from one generation to the next, but it goes back and forth and skips around to the different players in a way that makes sense to the story.
I also loved the characters. You can tell each of them was struggling with the very human experience of not being accepted by society for who they are and trying to figure out how to reconcile it. I think this is why this story has received so much praise; people connect to a story of being seen after being unseen.
One thing that was frustrating for me was the switch between characters. I love having a breadth of characters to add color and texture to a story, but sometimes it felt as if their stories were half-baked. I would have preferred if Bennet didn’t share the perspective of the characters outside of the Vignes twins and their children, than to have a glimpse of their stories and then have them left hanging. This is one of my biggest pet peeves for novels.
Overall, I enjoyed the story. I love a good messy character, and this was an interesting portrayal of someone who crossed over races. I have never read a story like this, outside of historical accounts of people who passed. It makes me wonder how many of my ancestors were able to pass. This book was a critical examination of the power and potency of white privilege, a conversation that is still necessary today.