Different Kinds of Loss in The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Her death hit in waves. Not a flood, but water lapping steadily at her ankles. You could drown in two inches of water. Maybe grief was the same. – pg 336

A father is dragged from his home in front of his twin daughters and lynched. Decades later his wife succumbs to Alzheimer’s. The deaths of these parents bookend the margins of their daughters’ lives, and in between the two women make and remake themselves, grieve over their own loss of identities, the loss of connection to each other and to their past.

Initially as teenagers, the twins run away together from their small country town to the big city of New Orleans. But from there one sister realizes she can pass for white and insulates herself into a world of privilege that eventually takes her to Los Angeles, while the other goes her own way struggling in her sister’s absence and eventually finding her way back home after a sojourn in Washington DC.

In addition to making and remaking their own stories, they make stories for their daughters, too. And those daughters make and remake themselves and gravitate towards others doing the same, all sad souls adrift in a wide lake of a world losing and finding themselves over and over.

“I think everybody who ever hurt me loved me,” her mother said. -pg 337

Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is a brilliant drama about trauma and love and loss. Its themes, motifs, and characters speak to things pointedly black and pointedly female, but undeniably American. Its episodic, transgenerational format would lend itself well to being adapted as a “limited series” on a prestige streaming service.

Many of the events and plot points would seem too “on the nose” if they weren’t so real. A lot happens to these women, but isn’t that life? Both too long and too short…always one comeback, reinvention away from that perfect moment where suddenly it all makes sense. Waiting for that last poof…when we vanish for good.

Review by D. H. Schleicher