Contemporary U.S. Literature

The Vanishing Half

August 3, 2021
Cover Image

This makes an interesting companion piece to the last novel I read, Homegoing, as it, too, is about two sisters who grow up in completely different worlds. Here, we have very light-skinned twins, one of whom passes over as white and never goes back. Both have daughters, and these girls eventually, improbably, meet up 2,000 miles away from where their mothers were raised. It’s a gripping plot, and written in an unencumbered way–I selected this for my neighborhood bookclub and everyone who read it claimed they loved it. I listened to the audiobook of Bennett’s The Mothers a few years ago and loved it, so I knew this would also be a good story. I can’t wait to see what Bennett writes next.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about this novel was the way it takes passing, and the malleability of some identities, as a motif and explores how and why various individuals try to pass as a different sex, gender, or race. It does not belabor this point, but positions a cis-man who enjoys cross-dressing and playing with drag adjacent to a transgender character for whom passing could be a matter of life or death. The transgender man is simply a supporting character in a novel whose focus is on colorism and racism. Personally, I found this to be a relief, because it normalizes (through downplaying) transgender people as it highlights problems in another marginalized community.

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