Living All Kinds of Lies: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Stella Vignes is a case study in why your mother tells you nothing good comes from lying.

But it makes for such a compelling read. So by all means, Stella … do continue.

Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half” is her sophomore novel effort, a followup to the widely acclaimed “The Mothers.” And it’s another look at the one relationship each and every one of us has, whether it’s nonexistent or exquisitely fulfilled. The mother and the child.

But to get to those, readers first have to travel through another relationship central to this story of love, loss and acceptance — that of the Vignes twins, Stella and Desiree. Born into a mysterious, predominantly Black Southern town and a culture where the lighter your skin, the better your future, it shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise that Stella makes the decision to “pass over” into White culture. I just wasn’t expecting that departure from one life to the next would be so certain and so abrupt and for so long. Secrets die hard with the Vignes girls.

And because it’s Desiree that is the driving force propelling the sisters toward their individual freedoms outside their hometown of Mallard, her return years later would not have been the one I expected. Desiree is the rebel, after all. Stella is the studious one. The serious one. The rule follower.

Or maybe not.

Bennett’s tale of the Sisters Vignes really is two stories in one — Desiree and Jude, and Stella and Kennedy. Desiree, returning home with a child that won’t fit anywhere until she ventures out on her own, and Stella with Kennedy, a mother growing increasingly anxious about her own past while trying to make her daughter into something she doesn’t want to be —dutiful in ways she ultimately never was.

Wrap into that Jude’s complicated relationship with her lover, Reese, and Desiree’s resignation to be the duty-bound daughter her sister chose to run from, and you will not be able to put this book down. So many twists and turns to its complicated but comfortable conclusion. Bennett’s prose flows easily for the reader, and that’s no easy feat given the layers of storytelling that occur, one gently on top of another. From Mallard to New Orleans to Washington D.C., to Boston and L.A. — nothing feels forced or contrived about the sisters or their relationships, though I’d love to know more about the ins and outs of Stella and Blake, Desiree and Early… There’s a Netflix series here, just waiting to burst.

There’s plenty of fat to chew if this is a book club pick — the early trauma the girls faced, the subsequent trauma readers learn about, whether or not Desiree is settling, whether or not Stella has redeeming qualities that make up for a pretty stark betrayal … this is not going to disappoint. One of my favorites so far this year. Don’t pass it up.

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