The Vanishing Half

Riverhead. Jun. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9780525536291. $27. F
Is identity something we’re born with, or something we choose? This is the overarching theme of Bennett’s follow-up to The Mothers. Desiree and Stella are twins born in Mallard, LA, a tiny town populated by light-skinned African Americans. The twins run away to New Orleans as teenagers and eventually take radically different paths. Desiree marries a dark-skinned black lawyer but leaves him and returns to Mallard with their daughter, Jude, who is also much darker than the town approves of. Stella passes for white and marries a successful businessman who knows nothing of her past, eventually relocating to Los Angeles. Years later, Jude (who has a long-term relationship with a transgender man) and Stella’s daughter, Kennedy, meet by chance. Near the beginning of the novel, when Desiree enlists a childhood sweetheart, Early, to find Stella, the story feels like it could go in the direction of a thriller like Gone Girl. Instead, the focus shifts to Jude, and readers realize that Bennett is up to something else.
VERDICT With large sections focusing on the viewpoints of Desiree, Jude, Stella, and Kennedy in turn, Bennett allows readers’ perspectives and sympathies to shift, providing empathy for their difficult choices.
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