Bennett explores the complicated implications of perception as reality when it comes to race and its meaning.
In The Vanishing Half, Bennett follows the history of the fictional Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella, as they grow up in a town made up of those who identify as light-skinned black people. As teenagers they run from a prescribed future as maids in the small town, where tragedy in the form of evil white men took their father from them and left their mother scrambling to provide for them.
Upon reaching freedom, their paths diverge. One twin secretly passes at work for white, then vanishes into a life based upon this premise. The other twin marries a dark-skinned black man and lives as a black woman.
Bennett shows the twins' disparate experiences within their respectively identified races, with the white twin enjoying staggering privilege, an abandonment of her original family, and an exhausted sense of constantly living a lie; she finds it difficult to connect to her daughter and begins to realize she is holding herself at a distance in order to perpetuate her identity. The black twin returns to the girls' hometown and shakes things up by bringing her very dark-skinned daughter to a community that prides itself on its members' pale skin. She makes no apologies and emerges as a fixture of the community.
The book explores the complicated implications of perception as reality when it comes to race and its meaning; the subjectivity of and intense power within race labels; and the tension of living under false pretenses, fearing how tenuous the foundation of your life and love may be.
What did you think?
What did you think of Stella's behavior when her new neighbors moved in (and the resulting events)?
Bennett also wrote The Mothers, which I had mixed feelings about.
This book is also part of the Greedy Reading List My Six Favorite Summer 2020 Reads.