This was a book group read that I probably would not have known about otherwise, although apparently it was chosen off Obama’s list of best books in 2020.
The story explores the concept of identity, through all its characters, but predominantly via twins from Louisiana, which separate, one living as black and the other “passing” as white. It also features a young man’s journey as trans. All of the characters, in their own way, wrestle with the roles they have been born to.
Is identity something you adopt, fabricate and put on, like a costume? Is identity an outward thing or an inward one? How does one align the projected self with the authentic self? Some are actors and performers, yearning for exposure, wanting to be seen. Others live in disguise and obfuscate. The best actors get themselves most out of the way, while photographers expose their film only in a dark room. Which is it for you?
While I can’t say I enjoyed this book, it was interesting and thought provoking. My own concept of Truth seems so much simpler and less convoluted; it doesn’t feel dependent on me to make it so or to even agree.
However, I can still relate to these characters and their struggle. After all, I left a bunch of my identity of origin behind, when I ceased being an atheist, so I get what this “passing” as “something else” feels like. Maybe we all have our halves that have to vanish for us to grow into who we really are.
I give The Vanishing Half four stars. Read it if you want to grapple with these kinds of ideas. The book is full of irony, disfunction, and poetic contrast.