We had our second session for The Vanishing Half. We were sad to see it go but loved that we got to FINALLY have the sisters meet!!
Yes, Stella and Desiree finally meet as the climax of the novel. And I will say it was anti-climatic. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You see, sometimes it’s the nuanced, smaller moments that make a scene versus large, boisterous ones. All Desiree says when she sees Stella for the first time after 20+ years is, “oh.” After some angry words, the sisters finally embrace and they spend some time together. Then as quickly as she came, Stella left to go back to her life. This is the perfect way for the sisters to have come together (and come undone again). What else did you expect from the scene?
The moment that stuck out to us the most was when Adele Vignes slips into dementia and refers to Desiree as Stella. It brings together the theme of the sisters being one half of the same person or even just the same person in totality. When she cannot remember who Desiree is but only remembers Stella, it is extremely heartbreaking. But it is also the moment in the novel where the readers realize how they truly are one being, tethered regardless of Stella’s attempts. I thought it was so touching and was happy Bennett ended the novel in this way.
To backtrack, we are finally introduced to Stella in this half. We learn that she did in fact marry a nice, rich, white man. And she did in fact birth a “white” daughter. We also learn that Stella is lying to everyone in her life. It is clearly taxing on her…so she takes it out on her Black neighbors. Strange, yes, but necessary? She is trying her very best to act white by putting on her racist hat; so much so it embarasses her husband. We as a group believed she definitely could have pretended to be white without going overboard but…I guess that’s Stella’s way.
Thankfully, we are introduced to more Black women, including the lovely Loretta. She is a refreshing character and we are sad they only appear for a brief time. I was desperately hoping there would be a scene where Loretta tells Stella she knew she was Black the whole time, but it never comes. I felt bad her character was used as a plot device instead of being more flushed out. But it comes with the territory. I love her, though!
Kennedy’s character introduced a new aspect of what Blackness really means. We get a taste of it with Kennedy learning the truth about her race. But that opened a real dialogue for what Blackness cam mean for someone who does not “look Black”. Can Kennedy be Black if she walked through her entire life “looking white” and benefitting from whiteness? Can she be Black if she never interacted with Black people and has no connection to her Blackness? We don’t really know the answers to those questions, as they can only be answered by someone in her position. We can all agree that white-passing people do in-fact benefit from white privilege and should recognize that. But what they do with their Blackness is up to them. The one-drop rule is extremely outdated so maybe they wouldn’t consider themselves Black at all. It is a bit frustrating that we learn more about Kenneduy’s struggle with Blackness more than Jude’s struggle with existing in a racist and colorist society. But that’s just us…
Ok, now on to Jude and Reese!! It is revealed that the lovely pair are still together as Jude is in medical school. We also learn that Reese finally gets his top surgery and is loving his new bod. We are more than happy for them and am glad they did in fact get the happy ending dark skinned Black women and trans people barely receive. Refreshing, to say the least. We still never got a real reference to how dark Jude was. And we still didn’t appreciate the constant attacks made to her dark skin throughout the novel. It felt slightly unresolved–the only time we get some sort of mention of dark skin being “ok” is Reese calling Jude beautiful. But a woman should not be respected only after a man deems her respectable. And dark skin should not be validated only when someone who wants to have sex with the owner does the validating. So this is a definite downside of this novel.
We were not expecting the novel to end on Jude and Reese. No matter how much we love the two of them, we were expecting the novel to end the way it began, in talking about the twins. Let us know in the comments how you thought it was going to end! Let us know how you liked the ending!