The Vanishing Half | Brit Bennett | A Word on Words | NPT
"Binaries are boring. 'Is this character good or are they bad?' or 'Was this choice right or was it wrong?' — those are uninteresting questions, because they’re simple questions, and that’s not the ways in which any of us move through the world." Brit Bennett talks to NPT host Mary Laura Philpott about THE VANISHING HALF.
- [Bennett] Hi, this is Brit Bennett,
and this is "The Vanishing Half".
"The Vanishing Half" is a story about Desiree and Stella,
who are identical twin sisters who grew up
inseparably as children,
but decide to live their lives as adults
on opposite sides of the color line.
- [Philpott] The town where these twins grow up,
Mallard, Louisiana, is this based on a real place?
- [Bennett] It's based on a place
that my mom remembers hearing about
when she was a child in Louisiana.
When my mom told me the story,
I became really interested in it
because not only is it very striking and disturbing,
but just thinking about the idea of not only privileging
light-skin, but like instituting it almost,
or sort of genetically engineering it
within your population.
That was so spooky to kind of think about.
And I think that that was one entry point
into the story that really fascinated me.
- Why do you think you're drawn to that,
that concept of townspeople as a collective voice?
- [Bennett] I'm often just drawn to
these small communities and the ways
in which they have values that are passed on.
And sometimes those values are really good
and sometimes those values are very harmful.
So I like the idea of novels, as stories of community.
The idea that any minor person in the town
could be as interesting as your protagonist,
I think that that's a way that I think about the world
and a way that I like to think about fiction.
- [Philpott] You tend to focus on
the outcomes of decisions without getting into
was this the right thing or not the right thing?
And I'm wondering what makes that a more interesting
kind of story for you to tell as a writer?
- I think in general binaries are boring,
and I think, you know, is this character good
or are they bad or was this choice right or was it wrong?
Those are uninteresting questions just because
they're simple questions, and that's not the ways
in which any of us move through the world.
Our lives are so complex.
So I always am trying to think about that third option
or another way of thinking about the choices
that the character has made.
I think particularly for "The Vanishing Half,"
often stories about passing are often quite moralizing,
and I was not interested in punishing Stella.
I, really what I found most interesting is
what are the implications of this on her life?
Once she's made this choice,
how does that shape her life and also
shape the life of her child,
and sort of this family line as it's moving
in this different direction?
- [Philpott] You made these characters not just sisters,
but identical twins.
- I loved the idea of twins as a way to explore identity
in this book, but also thinking
about the complexity of that bond,
because it's both claustrophobically close,
and they are constantly sort of wanting
to pull away from each other.
But at the same time,
they're both afraid to be apart from each other
because they've never had to be on their own.
- [Philpott] Brit, thank you so much for joining us.
- Thanks for having me.
- And thank you for joining us for "A Word on Words".
I'm Mary Laura Philpott.
Keep reading. (typewriter dings)
- [Bennett] I think reading everything,
reading things that are bad or good or interesting or
boring, I think you learn from anything that you read,
even if you hate the book,
you are still learning something from it.
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