Greetings, readers! My name is Sareeta Domingo, and I’m an author and fiction editor. It’s my great pleasure to be bringing you a Book of the Week, each week here on Morning Mari.
This week, my selection is a recently-published novel that dazzlingly enters the cannon of works exploring the uniqueness of Black American identity: The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett.
Bennett’s novel interweaves the lives of identical twin sisters Stella and Desiree Vignes with their daughters’ own journeys, in a story spanning from the late 60s into the 1980s and 90s. Stella and Desiree grew up in Mallard, a fictional town whose African American inhabitants took pains to ensure that only the lightest skinned could become part of their community. Despite this, both twins experience the trauma of their father being lynched, and it is perhaps this trauma that also eventually leads to a fork in the road of their existences.
The twins run away from the town as young women. Desiree eventually has a child with a violent man, and leaves him to return to Mallard with her daughter, Jude, whose skin is “black as tar”. Stella on the other hand, abandons her sister and takes up with a wealthy white man, whom she eventually marries. She takes advantage of her appearance and ‘passes’ as a white woman, explaining nothing of her history. Stella, too, has a daughter – Kennedy, who is blonde and pale, entirely ignorant of her mother’s background. That is, until she meets Jude by chance when they’re in their twenties. This leads to a gradual reconnection of the divergent paths that separated the twins decades earlier…
Bennett’s storytelling is masterful, cleanly poetic and utterly engrossing. She takes us into a world of binaries and complications; an America in which inherent prejudices are only a hair’s breadth away no matter the lengths one may go to in order try to distance from them, and where the past is impossible to ignore. It’s also a beautiful exploration of family, love and friendships in all their intricacies. And that is why The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett is my Book of the Week this week.