The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

downloadI was so curious to read a novel about twins–because I am a twin, and because I am writing such a book myself. It could go either way–setting up a contrast using twins could be done in a way that feels obvious and artificial. But this book mostly avoided that, partly, I think, because it attended significantly to relationships, including the one between the twins (although I think that could’ve been developed even more).

We get fairly deep into the life of both twins, the twin who slips away to pass as white, and the one who never pretends, marries a black man, and returns to the hometown and family. We get into the lives of each twins’ daughter. I struggled some with the “white” twin’s psychology, largely around her reactions to racial tensions. That’s clearly a complex subject, but I came away with the sense that the writer had left something on the table there, both for her and for her daughter.

I was much more engaged in the Black twin’s daughter’s life. Those were the sections where the book felt really alive to me, as she goes to college and starts a relationship with a trans man. It draws parallels about passing, about secrets and identity, but it also just feels like a story. Some of the other sections felt more like they were created to serve a purpose.

I wonder if the book might have gelled and deepened more if Bennett had taken a few more years to sit with the characters and the material. There’s a lot here and it’s a good book as is; I just feel like there might be more.

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