Bennett pours a small kitchen sink of contemporary issues ... Bennett pulls it off brilliantly ... Bennett locks readers in and never lets them go ... Bennett’s method of sliced-up storytelling takes the spotlight away from Stella long enough that by the time this living metaphor returns to the story, it feels honest and earned ... Although Bennett’s essays and fiction undeniably have a social-justice agenda, she leaves any weighty parallels—between, for example, racial and gender determinism—to the reader. Her restraint is the novel’s great strength, and it’s tougher than it looks ... stunning ... One of Bennett’s many small masterstrokes is to put one of the deepest ironies of the book in the mouth of a villain ... The Vanishing Half speaks ultimately of a universal vanishing.
I liked [Bennett's] debut novel, The Mothers—about the long consequences of an unplanned teenage pregnancy—but I'd also faulted it for being melodramatic. Now, I'm recognizing that's how Bennett rolls as a novelist: embracing melodrama as a beguiling way to delve into difficult topics. In The Vanishing Half, Bennett takes up a subject perfectly suited to her signature melodramatic style ... Bennett is especially artful in delving into Stella's situation, which, at first, seems so cushy, but turns out to be fraught with the daily terror of being found out. ... Again and again, throughout this entertaining and brazenly improbable novel, Bennett stops readers—or at least stopped this white reader—in their tracks with such pointed observations about privilege and racism. As another melodramatic novelist, Charles Dickens, recognized: If you tell people a wild and compelling enough story, they may just listen to things they'd rather not hear.
The Vanishing Half...belongs to a long tradition of literature about racial passing ... Bennett roots out these withered tropes and reanimates them in a fresh, surprising story ... she leans into their prescribed melodrama. Her omniscient narration roves among story lines, introducing us to a cast of stock characters ... More than once, the plot turns on an outrageous coincidence. But, as the novel unfolds, we begin to recognize how deftly Bennett is rearranging the generic pieces of her story. Her frictionless prose whisks us across a period of nearly forty years, the plot unwinding nonsequentially ... The electricity inside this space—past, present, and the stretch between—comes from watching seemingly predictable characters collide in unexpected ways ... The narrative of passing inevitably confronts questions of performance: the dissonance between the authentic self and the projected self, the drama of seeing and being seen. But, in Bennett’s novel, Stella, the archetypal passing figure, is hardly the only performer. All of Bennett’s characters wrestle with the roles they have been assigned. The vital dynamic between actor and spectator yields different models of selfhood.
Bennett is a remarkably assured writer who mostly sidesteps the potential for melodrama inherent in a form built upon secrecy and revelation. The past laps at the present in short flashbacks, never weighing down the quick current of a story that covers almost 20 years. Each chapter ends on a light cliffhanger, and the pages fairly turn themselves. Some depth is sacrificed for the swiftness; the book doesn’t burrow into the psychology of its characters so much as map the wages of artifice, fracture and loss across generations ... The authorial control that so efficiently serves the plot can clip the characters’ wings. They are given such narrow and precise roles to play...and they play them so responsibly, never deviating from their scripts, that repetitiveness and flatness creep into the writing. Only Stella, gifted in all forms of escape and wonderfully inscrutable to the end, is permitted the mystery and self-contradiction that allows for the fullness of personality on the page. Bennett’s tendency toward narrative neatness and explication also results in an unhappy tic of tying up sections and sentiments with banalities unworthy of her ... But Bennett excels in conjuring the silences of families and in evoking atmosphere ... The Vanishing Half is a book sashed in influences. Bennett has written about her debt to Toni Morrison ... There is a touch of Dorothy Allison ... Larsen ... These echoes—deliberate and affectionate—are beautiful to behold in a book about suppressed lineages[.]
... deeply compelling ... Bennett brilliantly creates a network of characters – singular and vivid – whose stories alternate in time and take readers from Louisiana to LA ... There are moments in The Vanishing Half that stun with quiet power ... A potential pitfall in a novel with far-flung characters whose lives and decisions affect each other is the perceived need for scenes where startling coincidence brings two people together and reveals their connection. One major example of this pushes the plausibility limit in The Vanishing Half, even as it furthers the dramatic action of the novel ... Yet overall, The Vanishing Half more than succeeds as a beautifully imagined story about an American family. Whether or not Mallard or a place like it actually ever existed – the novel’s end puts this into question – the lives of Desiree, Stella, and their kin will stay with readers for a long time.
Brit Bennett is an author outside of time. The Vanishing Half is a novel written a century after the Harlem Renaissance. It is a clear and direct descendant of that literary heritage and is a strong entry when compared to its ancestry. Race, class, and gender discussions are wrapped in beautiful language that is confident yet compassionate toward both reader and character. Somehow, Bennett manages to take these important topics head on but cleaves away the fat of redundancy and banality. Beginning the novel in the climate surrounding the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the impact of the storytelling is undeniable, but it is not a relentless series of blows that keep the main characters from recovering nor readers from engaging ... No matter how hard [the sisters] try, they cannot escape themselves or their past and the journey to that realization is not for the faint of heart, nor is it to be missed by anyone whose heart beats for a story about being honest with yourself.
All of these events unfold with the inevitability of a folktale or a fable—which is how The Vanishing Half, with its many folklorish narrative extravagances, reads. This book is not interested in literary realism. It is a fairy tale, and it makes no apologies for being so ... Bennett duly enters into the minds of each of her major players, one after another, and she is thoughtful enough to be empathetic with each in their darkest moments ... Bennett is precise about tracking such gradations of power. She is also precise about her sentences, which are meltingly lush without ever becoming overripe ... a marvel.
The Vanishing Half revolves around the myths it is possible to make from our lives. Put another way, the novel reveals the lengths to which people will go for an easier life—possibly even the life of their dreams. Bennett achieves this by carefully granting us access to the deepest fears of two women who take very different paths and by showing the reach of their decisions on their daughters as well as the other people closest to them ... Bennett expertly conveys how both Desiree and Stella fumble and triumph in their respective, separate lives, while rendering their children’s narratives fully and clearly as well ... seamless and suspenseful. The novel manages to be engrossing and surprisingly apolitical ... Bennett does not write toward the propriety or impropriety of passing—she does not ask us, through Stella, if it is deceitful to pretend to be white in order to avoid the oppressions and restrictions of Blackness ... a novel that reads effortlessly. The characters and stakes are both true to the decades they span and the truths they tell about hiding or passing. There is tremendous, timeless wisdom here about what is lost when we do not allow others to see our real selves and what is found again if we free ourselves from their gaze.
With a judicious hand, Bennett outlines how this regulating of racial purity comes with no small measure of emotional cruelty ... among the novel’s great technical accomplishments are the parallels it draws between characters’ experiences across the decades. Stella and Desiree’s struggles are elegantly and inventively echoed in the future challenges encountered by their children ... Images and subplots associated with this performative aspect of identity are prevalent in the text. We regularly find ourselves in the company of shapeshifting drag queens, a chameleon-like bounty hunter, extravagant soap stars, theatrical estate agents. Some might find this repeated allusion to the theme of pretence grinding or overly emphatic. For me, it mirrored the daily self-policing and continuous effort required in order for Stella to maintain her facade ... Bennett is a gifted storyteller. This generous, humane novel has many merits, not least its engrossing plot and richly detailed settings, from smoky small-town diners to gleaming laboratories. The handling of Stella’s secret struggles is, however, an especial achievement ... the novel proves to be a timely testament to the redemptive powers of community, connection and looking beyond the self.
... a generous and precise family saga that spans decades while darting from coast to coast, tells a story of absolute, universal timelessness ... For any era, it's an accomplished, affecting novel. For this moment, it's piercing, subtly wending its way toward questions about who we are and who we want to be ... Bennett trades in secrets with the best of them—her plotting, at its juiciest, holds a soapy cinematic pull—but she doesn't play coy, either. She's a storyteller in total command of the narrative, her shattered family portrait pieced back together with artful restraint and burgeoning clarity ... the book...speaks both to the intimate truths of family connection, and to the ever-complex, ever-enraging story of race in America.
In her second novel, The Vanishing Half, she immediately captivates readers with the mysterious 'lost twins' Desiree and Stella Vignes ... While the plot often hinges on coincidences as dramatic as a movie script, the twins’ characters feel real and complex enough for the reader to accept those developments as family lore ... Leaping backward and forward through time, the story alternates narrators and passes through two generations as it explores its difficult truths ... Teens will likely be as drawn to this book as their parents, but readers should note that the story includes brief but vivid scenes of child molestation and a lynching.
In Stella, Bennett balances the literary demands of dynamic characterization with the historical and social realities of her subject matter. Stella is hard to like: Her choice to cut herself off from blackness is a psychic suicide that leaves her empty, lacking in empathy and bigoted ... Desiree is a woman with agency and a clear sense of the compromises she’s made to ensure her well-being ... The novel...might well have stayed with these women in whom there is such depth, possibility and dramatic propulsion. Instead, it switches focus to their daughters and in so doing loses vitality ... the novel labors to force the weight of the past onto [Jude] ... as a character Kennedy is a bit flat, the spoiled rich white girl straight out of central casting, self-pitying and little altered by the events of her life ... The novel fails to imagine meaningful story lines or compelling links between the young women and their mothers’ burdens. As a result, their sections struggle to find momentum and weight. Despite these shortcomings, The Vanishing Half is a brave foray into vast and difficult terrain.
...a fierce examination of contemporary passing and the price so many pay for a new identity. The open wounds of the past remain, even as these characters build new lives, personally and professionally. Reinvention and erasure are two sides of the same coin. Bennett asks us to consider the meaning of authenticity when we are faced with racism, colorism, sexism and homophobia. What price do we pay to be ourselves? How many of us choose to escape what is expected of us? And what happens to the other side of the equation, the side we leave behind? “The Vanishing Half” answers all these questions in this exquisite story of love, survival and triumph.
The lives of each sister and the secrets they keep hidden drive The Vanishing Half, which is skillfully structured and filled with richly developed characters who defy stereotypes. By turns poignant and funny, it's a timely look at the dual nature of race—an abstract construct, a visceral reality—and the damage that racism can inflict.
The Vanishing Half, more than lives up to her early promise. It's an even better book, more expansive yet also deeper, a multi-generational family saga that tackles prickly issues of racial identity and bigotry and conveys the corrosive effects of secrets and dissembling. It's also a great read that will transport you out of your current circumstances, whatever they are ... this novel keeps you turning pages not just to find out what happens—or how it happened—but to find out more about who these people are ... It's a rare gift to be able to dig beyond the dirt and gossip of lives viewed superficially to get to the inner human story, to delve beyond the sensational into difficult issues, and to view flawed characters with understanding rather than judgment or condemnation. Toni Morrison's influence is evident in these pages, from a slur Desiree's dark-skinned daughter suffers that echoes the title of Morrison's novel Tar Baby, to the ability to convey both the brutal realities of racism and the beautiful wonders of love.
Bennett likes to take a stark piece of hearsay and turn it around, flesh it out, make it human ... It is comforting to be in search of the person behind the story passed around, and comforting, too, to be smoothly drawn along by an all-seeing, compassionate narrator, as if gliding through still water ... My first reading of The Vanishing Half was greedy, fast, for plot ... at first you don’t see that there are a few too many folksy bromides ... I’ve sometimes felt that it might as well be a soap opera, a potboiler, a TV series (as it soon will be—HBO bought rights for a seven-figure fee at the end of June). Bennett’s novel isn’t quintessentially a novel, but I’m not so far away from that first reading to think that it needs to be something other than what it is ... if thousands of people can forget the deadly virus, political mismanagement, racial violence, domestic violence, economic uncertainty and ecological disaster (as well as the washing-up, their overgrown fringe and their neighbours’ suspiciously un-distanced-sounding party), while reading a book that touches on all these things, resolves happily but not stupidly, and reintroduces them to Nella Larsen and Zora Neale Hurston and Lorraine Hansberry—well, that’s good enough.
Though the plot revolves upon a series of canned recognition scenes, the underlying interest is in the cousins’ attempts to forge a livable combination of self-knowledge and self-invention ... Ms. Bennett’s second novel, but she marches through it with the professional assurance of an author with a dozen books under her belt. Such poise is an ambiguous blessing. Streamlined for readability, the writing can be generic, and in the motif of twins with contrasting fortunes (by now a cliché in literary fiction) it’s hard to avoid reductive symbolism ... The novel finds itself in the later chapters with Kennedy and Jude, where it allows its headliner themes to drift into the background of, and become complicated by, the flow of the cousins’ daily lives. My hope is that the warranted praise Ms. Bennett receives for this novel will have less to do with her efficient handling of timely, or 'relevant,' subject matter than for her insights into the mysterious compound of what we call truth: a mixture of the identities we’re born with and those we create.
Some novels are timeless—tied neither to an era nor a place. Others are timely—urgent for a moment, but not necessarily lasting. The Vanishing Half, a new novel by Brit Bennett, has the rare distinction of being both ... At a time when questions of identity and racial tension are at the forefront of the national conversation, Bennett’s novel is an important meditation on the possibility of a brighter future after trauma ... It's particularly poignant to read The Vanishing Half as a white person in 2020. Though the majority of the novel is set between the 1930s and 1980s, it's shocking (though it shouldn't be) that so little has changed in terms of racial equality and discrimination. Each of the main characters is part of the same family, but their individual experiences are so distinct and thoroughly drawn, an important reminder that there is no universal Black experience ... If The Mothers was a promising debut, The Vanishing Half cements Bennett as one of the most exciting talents writing right now.
At a moment when our nation’s racial tension is bubbling over, The Vanishing Half is a timely commentary on race, identity, and performance ... Breaking from traditional racial passing novels which mount anticipation around the revelation of passing characters’ true racial identities, Bennett rather centered Stella’s experience wrestling with her identity and navigating whiteness without the constant fear and consequence of disclosure. This, perhaps, is an all the more accurate narrative of passing in America ... The gem that arises from The Vanishing Half is its indictment of white fragility ... Through her illustration of the Vignes twins’ hometown of Mallard and the experiences of Jude, Bennett deftly explores anti-Blackness ... What I loved most about Reese was Bennett’s thoughtful and refreshing decision to not essentialize or fetishize him. So often in literature and media, queer characters are used for straight readers’ discovery, understanding or unlearning, thus implicitly upholding heteronormativity. Yet, in The Vanishing Half, Reese is simply allowed to be who he is, without explanation, justification or questioning ... On the surface, The Vanishing Halff is a story of passing, identity, colorism, and unearthing family secrets, but it’s also so much more. It’s a journey in forgetting and forgiveness, a battle of revenge and redemption, and a reimagining of the construction of categories.
The omniscient authorial voice is gentle and compassionate in a tale that inverts and confounds expectations ... Bennett ably shows the superficiality of suburban civility. Come crunch time, the attitude of the comfortable residents of upper-middle-class Brentwood, LA, is little different from Louisiana bigotry ... The Vanishing Half may seem old-fashioned but it’s cleverly constructed to both match and critique the conservativism of the 1950s and 60s: the attenuated tone chimes with the restrained language and style of the period. Ultimately, it’s a quietly damning account of acquiescing to an imitation of life and the delusion of the American dream.
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.
... deserves all the attention it’s been getting ... Bennett draws her characters with empathy while making their flaws very plain; the story depicts a variety of relationships especially well and packs a punch with its emotional realness. The story movingly explores contemporary issues of race and gender identity and the costs incurred when abandoning one’s earlier life for a new, different persona. The dialogue feels pitch-perfect, and the story moves with engrossing momentum as the mystery builds about whether Stella’s carefully built lies will unravel. This is an outstanding work of fiction, a thought-provoking literary saga that everyone should read.
Among Brit Bennett’s gifts as a writer is her control of narrative time ... Intimate and expansive, gripping and carefully crafted, the single, mesmerising sentence hints at what’s to come ... Bennett’s flair for multiple narratives, her powerful depiction of trauma and focus on how the past continues to reverberate, also bring Morrison to mind ... Bennett avoids cliche and melodrama ... Rather than judging Stella, Bennett scrutinises her, using passing as a prism through which to examine the impact of racism and colourism on individual and collective identities. It also allows her to expose white privilege and the futility of self-serving white guilt ... Bennett is an excellent storyteller, though some of her secondary characters – a white academic blind to how white and middle class her version of feminism is – are overshadowed by the plot and can feel like plants. But the novel is driven by the intelligence and agility of her writing, which is tender without being sentimental, and stark when it needs to be. The violence is indelible, the twins’ complicated bond beautifully real.
For this mixed-race reader, each page of Stella’s fakery, each page of her pretending to be white even in the face of so much racism, felt like a punch to the gut. Stella has to sacrifice so much of herself to maintain the lie. 'Passing' requires utter vigilance; Stella must avoid black people who are most likely to spot her deception. And this feeling of utter frustration fuels the book’s power as a page-turner ... The novel leaps back and forth, occasionally disorientating, from the segregated 1950s to the 1990s, and across cities and states. Sometimes Bennett’s storytelling is unsubtle — white-aspiring Stella works in the White Building. But the intricacies of identity, of 'shadeism' between differently skin toned African-Americans, of white privilege are skilfully pursued in this poignant and clever multigenerational saga about race in America.
...an enthralling addition to the literature of passing ... The Vanishing Half is powered by its reflections on deception, motherhood, and love, and where they intersect ... Although we live in a world of constructs, the novel shows how one thing inevitably leads to the next, and the truth catches up to you, even if everything feels unreal at times ... told deftly and assuredly.
... moving and insightful ... skillfully structured and filled with richly developed characters who defy stereotypes. By turns poignant and funny, it’s a timely look at the dual nature of race — an abstract construct, a visceral reality — and the damage that racism can inflict.
...Brit Bennett’s exquisite second novel...weaves together scenes from the 1950s through the ’90s, tackling such issues as racism, identity, gender and inherited trauma ... This is a novel to be devoured slowly, not only for its intriguing plot and exploration of vital issues but also for its gorgeous writing. Bennett digs deep into the history of colorism and racism in America and explores how far their poisons can reach ... The Vanishing Half calls to mind the work of Toni Morrison, Anne Tyler and Elizabeth Strout. Bennett writes like a master, creating rich worlds filled with a broad cast of characters, all shining brightly in memorable moments both big and small.
Bennett is at her most compelling when she describes the emotionally fraught bond between women...And she is deft at using figurative language ... This richly textured and nuanced novel depicts characters who find themselves with splintered identities in relation to their race, gender and lineage.
... not only shirks the sophomore slump, but also reinforces her as one of the most important and skilled American writers working today ... Bennett’s deft blend of intricate and seismic plotting makes it difficult to adequately cover much ground without messing up the story or slipping in a spoiler. Furthermore, The Vanishing Half is remarkably ambitious in both its achronological structure and its expansive breadth of time and space. Bennett’s ability to jump around freely through several eras in American history, as well as from coast to coast and to the Deep South, is nothing short of exceptional. There is never a moment where the narration feels rushed or scattered; the shifts between characters are organic and seamless ... The novel’s vast scope is a reward for the reader and a testament to Bennett’s craft ... Bennett’s sound architecture shapes the novel, but it is her complex characters that bring this monumental, sweeping story to life. The Vanishing Half reveals how people change and how they remain the same, but it is more than that: a breaking down of binaries, a reflection on the daily performances one makes to get by, and proof that the lifetime accumulation of our decisions can reify or erase our former selves. It’s a reminder that there’s so much at stake in the ways we treat one another: family, friends, lovers, neighbors, and strangers. There’s little opportunity to go back.
... every bit as thoughtfully and skillfully written as its predecessor ... Bennett thoughtfully addresses questions of identity and performance --- of race, gender and identity itself --- and wrenchingly interrogates how the impulsive choices Desiree and Stella make in their youth not only divide them but also shape their entire futures ... The sisters’ journey is by turns triumphant, painful, joyful and strange --- and readers will come away deeply affected by what their parallel stories reveal about human identity and race in America.
... deeply emotional and compelling, with evocative prose and deep characterization ... While shifting points of view and alternating timelines can become confusing, Bennett skillfully carries readers through three decades and seven narrators. The Vanishing Half handles subjects such as post-traumatic stress disorder, domestic violence, grief and colorism, exploring them within the context of complicated and messy family and romantic relationships. Bennett exposes the myriad ways people can hurt those they love best--or heal generational trauma.
The lives of twin sisters, born black but with skin so pale they could pass for white, are mapped with compassion and insight in this triumph of empathetic storytelling. It examines the politics of race and gender across several decades in 20th-century America. A terrific novel.
Bennett’s prose style is mostly functional; sometimes it lets in cliché and overwriting. But she is a bold, skilful storyteller ... The slightly fantastical premise and the coincidence-laden plot will have readers eagerly turning pages. Bennett uses these hooks to showcase complex, compassionate portraits of her four leading ladies. And what grants the novel real heft is the light touch employed for the (not so) historical details ... a clever balancing act indeed to pair such heartbreaking material with a narrative that’s so much fun.
... fluent and openhearted ... Alphonse’s legacy is a handy device, a place in which to lay bare the inequalities born of shade ... There are mild flaws: Stella doesn’t come across as the enigma other characters believe her to be; and, implausibly, she embarks on a late academic career, as if a college campus carried no risk of detection. But even a novelist must struggle to occupy the mind of a character who has forced her own emptiness ... Over five decades the societal backdrop is just that, present but never foregrounded. It doesn’t need to be. Progress and the lack of it are manifest in each character’s life chances. Who gets to thrive, to be believed, to be where and who they want to be — all still determined, Bennett attests, by the entanglement of history and power. The time for unravelling that morass is long overdue.
Reflecting and refracting her story via the four related women—sisters, cousins, mothers, daughters—at its heart, and with an irresistible narrative voice, Bennett...writes an intergenerational epic of race and reinvention, love and inheritance, divisions made and crossed, binding trauma, and the ever-present pas.
The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets ... expertly paced ... Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion ... Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp ... [a] rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.
Effortlessly switching between the voices of Desiree, Stella, and their daughters, Bennett renders her characters and their struggles with great compassion, and explores the complicated state of mind that Stella finds herself in while passing as white. This prodigious follow-up surpasses Bennett’s formidable debut.