Mallard, Lousiana is a town so small it can’t be found on a map. It’s a town of light-skinned black people — a town where “nobody married dark” — and its inhabitants are raised to make future generations lighter still. But its citizens are still susceptible to unjustifiable and endemic racism of the time; and of today. They work menial jobs for white people; and they’re the target of extreme prejudice and violent hate crimes. Take the father of the Vignes twins; lynched once in his front yard, then again in the hospital. Which is just one of the factors that leads to their abandonment of Mallard in 1954, when 16-year-old Desiree and Stella Vignes abscond to New Orleans.
United until this point, here their story fractures. Desiree marries “the darkest man she could find” and eventually returns to Mallard with her 8-year-old daughter, determined to hide from her abusive spouse. Stella, meanwhile, camouflages herself in white society, hugging her ability to pass for white like a blanket, because it offers opportunity and security; things Stella has never been able to take for granted. Mallard — its oppressiveness, and the family she left behind — becomes a memory. The more time passes, the easier it is to cut those emotional tendrils tying her to that town. Until years later Desiree’s daughter Jude — tending bar as a side job in Beverley Hills — catches a glimpse of Stella.
“The Vanishing Half” is no rehash of the traditional ‘estranged sibling reunion’ narrative. Brit Bennett is incapable of writing something so simplistic. This is a novel about identity: how civilisation has constructed, cemented and propagated our understanding of race and gender over thousands of years, and how difficult it is to break away from society’s imposed categorisation of every faction of humankind. But there’s not a lick of ostentatiousness here. Bennett’s agenda — the novel’s themes — are masqueraded behind rich, graceful prose and characters portrayed so honestly you can almost see into their souls. It works on a macro level because the smaller stories within are so vivid. There is not one false note in this extraordinary novel.
Format: Paperback / softback
Imprint: Dialogue Books
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 2-Jun-2020
Country of Publication: United Kingdom