The Vanishing Half—Brit Bennett

[I decided to read this 2020 novel in three sections, each containing two of the novel’s six parts. I wrote about what I had read in each section before reading further. Spoiler alert: If you read this running commentary, you will find out everything that happens in the book as I read it.]

16 February 2022
Parts 1 and 2
I had known in advance that this novel is about very fair-skinned African American twins, one of whom decides in adulthood to pass for white. I haven’t seen the recent Netflix film Passing, about the same subject, but it’s been on my radar since its release a few months ago. I was hoping that this novel would not be be about ticking some clearly-signalled boxes about how desperate people can become and, so far, it isn’t…. The twins are interesting and fully-rounded, trying to do their best in a world in which whites are hostile or indifferent, and fellow African Americans are often no help at all.

Part 1 begins with the return of the adult Desiree to the town of Mallard. We find out she is one of pale-skinned African American twins who had run away at the age of sixteen, and she’s been seen, her hand held by a very black little girl, fourteen years later. We know from Part 1’s title page that this is 1968, and her departure from her abusive husband has been precipitated by his almost killing her on the night of the death of Martin Luther King. She and her sister had run away, we later discover, at the end of the summer after their mother had made them leave school at sixteen. She needed them to work as cleaners to make money, and this had been their first introduction to the world of rich white people. Like Mallard, it’s a one-dimensional, schematically-drawn world, as though Bennett doesn’t feel the need for conventionally presented details. Desiree chooses Founders Day in August to escape, because all the usual pitfalls—nosy neighbours, ordinary routines—will be absent.

Mallard had been established by a pale-skinned freed slave, the son of a Black woman and the white man who had been her boss. He inherits everything, and has a vision of a future world in which the races will come together and there will be no divisions. It doesn’t work, of course. All that has happened is that in the town he founded, almost all the people have paler skin than most other African Americans. They are absurdly proud of it, always aiming for their own children to marry pale. It’s so exactly the opposite scenario to what happens in Toni Morrison’s Paradise that it must be deliberate. In the town of Ruby in Morrison’s novel, the inhabitants venerate ‘eight-rock’ Blackness, going back eight generations. One character scandalises them by marrying a white man—a scenario mirrored, as in reversed, by Desiree in this novel. I’ll come back to that, and other echoes….

Their pride of the townspeople is absurd because, to white people, their paleness counts for absolutely nothing. We’ve found out in these chapters that the twins’ father, as pale-skinned as they are, had been murdered in the 1940s by white men for a crime he could never have committed. He, unable to write even his own name, had been accused of writing in inappropriate note to a white woman. Really, the white men didn’t like the way he was trading at prices below theirs—and the so-called lynching is Bennett’s heightened way of making the point that in mid-20th Century America, ‘colored’ means colored. Desiree, the eldest twin by seven minutes, discovers this for herself after her return to the town after years working in Washington DC. She’s a fingerprint expert, the best in the city—this is a novel full of superlatives—but in Louisiana it counts for nothing. She does well on the test in the nearest big town to Mallard, but when the officer in charge sees ‘colored’ on her application form, he tells her to stop wasting his time.

Plenty more has happened by this time, but these two things are signals to the reader how entrenched attitudes are. ‘Passing,’ a word I’d never encountered before in this context, is obviously a very dangerous thing to attempt. And, so far, we haven’t seen it in action. It’s Desiree, the twin who has no wish to deny her identity, whose fortunes we follow after her sister leaves their shared apartment unannounced. Until that moment, first mentioned half-way through Part 1, they had been different in outlook, but inseparable. Desiree is shocked, but is able to live her own life. Unluckily, the African American lawyer she meets and marries in ‘DC’ has issues of his own. He regularly beats her, something their daughter grows up witnessing. When Desiree leaves him to return to Mallard, the girl is eight years old. I’ll come back to the girl, because most of Part 2 is about her.

Desiree had always been the restless one. Stella had been the one working hard at school, her ambition to be successful enough to train as a teacher there one day. Desiree’s homework was always late, her grades so low she forged her mother’s signature on the report cards. She knows, or thinks she knows, that she’s the one making the running with the escape plan, but once they are in New Orleans she isn’t so sure. Stella seems to be finding her own way and, as they never quite make enough money to send any home to their mother—this had been Stella’s plan, at least—she comes to a decision. Her old ambitions crushed, she has a new one, to pass for white, and Desiree doesn’t know what to think.

And then Stella is gone. Aside from what others think and say about her, she entirely disappears from the narrative for the rest of Part 1 and all of Part 2. Bennett’s conventional third-person omniscient narrator chooses whose stories to follow, and we have no idea what happens to Stella. Instead, we follow Desiree’s story to Washington and the arms (and fists) of a man who is all kindness and charm, except when he isn’t. Bennett doesn’t spend any time on making him any more rounded a character than the nosy pale-faced townsfolk of Mallard, but he becomes one of many in a line of people who aren’t who they appear to be. If Bennett really has any boxes to check, he’s the representative of routine African American male violence.

The people of Mallard aren’t sorry to see Desiree walking back into town from the bus stop. They remember her ‘uppity’ nature—a racist adjective they are as quick to use as any whites—and how Stella had been the one to help people and do her best to get on the right side of people. They see the black girl at her side, and don’t say much about it that we hear about. But they are appalled and pleased. Appalled that she would have a child with a black-skinned man, and pleased that her awkward ways have left to this shaming return. Her mother, who had heard from neither daughter for years, accepts her back into the old house with little comment at first. But she lets Desiree know that she should have known better. A black husband was always going to treat her badly, just as they would treat a white woman the same way.

It’s complicated. Bennett doesn’t comment on these attitudes, but leaves them hanging for the reader to unpack. Like Toni Morrison, she isn’t going to sentimentalise anything about the African American experience, including the way oppressed minorities often mouth the prejudices of the oppressors, using the same language. Unsurprisingly, all Desiree wants to do is get out of Mallard again, as soon as she can work out where to go. She doesn’t know that her husband has already hired an investigator, one Early Jones, through an agency specialising in hunting down fugitive wives and criminals. Early Jones finds her in a few days. It wasn’t hard, and he’s good at it. He has a 100% success rate, and normally, Desiree would have been forced to give up the child, and perhaps herself too, were it not for one lucky thing. Early Jones knows her from the summer when he worked nearby in his teens, and he had never forgotten her.

Implausible? Certainly. But from my limited experience of reading African American authors, telling these stories doesn’t have to conform to the conventions of another culture’s literature. Toni Morrison comes to mind again—there’s little enough in Paradise to be described as realistic, and in Beloved she uses a variant of Magic Realism. The same might be said of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, in which real episodes and experiences from history are woven together into a dark fairy-tale. At the heart of it, of course, is a magical railroad hewn from the rock and clay beneath the characters’ feet.

So Early Jones does not betray Desiree. He surprises her in the disreputable bar where she is trying to drown her sorrows in the middle of the day. He reminds her of how he and she got together that summer until her mother shooed him away—Desiree later apologises for not trying to stop her—and he gets close enough to take off the scarf she’s wearing despite the heat of the day. He sees the bruise that is still showing, and she is so appalled she pushes him back into a group of other men looking on. Nevertheless, he tells the husband he has no leads. No, she hadn’t gone to New Orleans, where she and Stella had first lived before Stella spirited herself away, and no, she hadn’t gone back to Mallard. He has no idea where she went from Washington, and the trail, he says, is cold.

He is good at biding his time, good at not pushing his luck with people who want to keep him out… and, as he had hoped, his persistence pays off. He and Desiree become lovers, but his lifestyle isn’t about to change at all. He’s nearly always away hunting down fugitives—exclusively crooks now, because domestic work gets too complicated, he says—but, the occasional times when he can spend a night or more with her, he does so. Jude, the girl, never stops missing her father, who had always behaved lovingly towards her, but Early Jones is the only man in her life for ten years. Meanwhile Desiree’s life fades into the background of the narrative. She gets a job waitressing at the local diner, although the owner realises she had lied about her previous long experience as soon as she starts, and… and that’s about it. She tolerates her mother’s lack of sympathy, ignores her sarcasm about Early Jones, and looks after Jude as best she can…

…but she can never help with the girl’s loneliness. Nobody ever wants to be her friend, because the only thing anybody ever notices is her blackness. She’s blue-black, they say, and—superlative alert—is regularly described as the blackest anybody has ever seen. On school photographs, exposed for pale skins, she’s a dark shape with only eyes and teeth visible. All the kids at school make jokes she’s soon heard a hundred times, because in Mallard she is faced with more prejudice than she ever suffered in Washington. One boy teases her the most mercilessly, although—and we only find this out later, as she looks back—he becomes her boyfriend on unspoken terms she has no choice but to accept. A relationship evolves in which they only meet out of sight, and make out in a dark barn on the farm he works at. Once they are discovered there, it’s over.

Bennett needs to get her out of there, and in Part 2 she does it. Jude’s escape is powered by another superlative—she’s such a fast runner she gets a scholarship to a university in California. And, this being the novel it is, she meets a new set of larger-than-life characters. She doesn’t realise that Reese, the nice boy who talks to her at a party, was born a girl. He—the male pronoun is used throughout—is older than she is, and she finds out much later he still has to strap his breasts and stuff a rolled-up sock in his pants in his twenties. It’s through him that Jude meets ‘the girls’, men who live conventional lives except for the weekends they spend in the drag clubs of late 1970s LA.

Jude and Reese become lovers, but it takes a long time for them to move beyond being just friends because nothing is simple with him. He has ways to satisfy Jude sexually, but he won’t let her touch him in a frankly sexual way. It isn’t satisfactory, and he has heard about an expensive operation…. And making money to pay for it is the secret reason why Jude takes on a job with a high-end catering company. This lucky break allows Bennett to describe, in broad strokes, the strange world of rich white people. Bennett has a reason to take one of her main characters out of her own world, and a big clue to this comes at the end of Part 2. Jude is working at a lavish party to celebrate a retirement and the promotion of a blond-haired man in an expensive-looking suit… and she has encountered the daughter of this man. She tells Jude her mother hasn’t bothered to show up yet… and Jude is so shocked when the woman arrives in her fur coat that she does a thing that only happens in novels and films. This highly experienced waitress for a high-end company drops the almost full bottle of Merlot she’s holding.

I think we can guess who she’s seen. I’ll leave that for next time, but I will say that when an impostor reaches the top of the tree, there’s only one way she can go from there.

21 February
Parts 3 and 4
If Stella’s going down, as I’m sure she must, it hasn’t happened yet. But Jude has found her again, four years after having seen her at the retirement party, and has let her know both her own identity and what she knows about Stella herself. Bennett engineers this meeting through another coincidence that nearly matches the bottle-dropping moment when she first saw Stella. Jude encounters Kennedy again, the daughter she had also met at the same party. She becomes almost fixated on this white-seeming girl who is actually her cousin, and gets a job where she is acting in an unpromising play. Before she meets Stella, she has told Kennedy how they are related. After the hurried, unsatisfactory meeting, Stella can do nothing but try to convince her daughter that there’s no truth in it. She finds Jude’s story difficult to believe—it’s hard to imagine that Desiree could ever have conceived a child so ‘dark’ (her word). But Jude seems to know an awful lot about her, and it’s pretty clear that Stella is only trying to fool herself.

We’re entirely in Los Angeles in these sections, and all this comes later, in Part 4. First, in Part 3, we follow Stella in 1968, starting on the very same day that Desiree returned to Mallard. It’s only then that we are with Jude in 1982. Bennett fills in back-stories as she goes, so that it’s some time after we read of Stella’s life on an exclusive cul-de-sac in Beverly Hills that we find out how she came to meet and marry Blake, the blond-haired man who had been ‘Mr Sanders’ her boss. I think he’s the one who makes the joke about this being the oldest cliché in the book. Bennett often does that, pointing out the tropes she’s relying on. She does it with the credibility-stretching coincidence of Jude’s first encounter with Stella many years later, long after Stella has tired of her bored-housewife lifestyle and has trained as a teacher of statistics. Perhaps she does it to remind us that she isn’t pretending this is anything but fiction. It goes with the heightened, almost hyperbolic feel sometimes. The lynching of the twins’ father in the 1950s makes Tom Robinson’s treatment in the 1930s in To Kill a Mockingbird seem mild by comparison.

By far my favourite chapters in these sections—in the whole novel so far—are the ones focused on Stella. She made a choice in New Orleans, but without a combination of lucky chances—those again—she wouldn’t have had the strength of will to carry it out. Her determination had been real, we discover in the flashbacks presented alongside Stella’s current life, based on a sense of the injustice of being faced with a life of drudgery when she could have been a teacher. The cleaning job, then another working in a laundry that turns the fingers of both twins to prunes, spur her on into taking a chance on ‘passing.’ She had tried it before, entering a museum on a ‘whites only’ day, and nobody noticed. Except the Black attendant winks at her conspiratorially. He isn’t telling, but he knows—and it’s crucial in setting up a life full of anxieties. Perhaps she will never fool her own kind, as she never stops thinking of them… but she fools the white people in the office where she applies for a typing job, and that turns out to be good enough.

Her lifelong anxiety begins to explain the unexpected thing she says at a local residents’ group in Beverly Hills, when we begin to follow her story at the start of Part 3. It’s unexpected because usually, we find out from everybody else’s reactions, she keeps herself to herself. An African American family have applied to buy a house in the street, and Bennett wants to remind us that in the year of Martin Luther King’s death—1968 appears on the title-page of Part 3, so we aren’t going to forget—this is not what prosperous white people want, anywhere in America. She stands up and tells the chairman of the group, ‘You must stop them, Percy. If you don’t, there’ll be more, and then what? Enough is enough!’

We have only just found out that ‘Stella Sanders’ is present, and the name-check is Bennett’s way of confirming that the woman Jude sees ten years later (and two pages earlier) really is who we thought. And I’m sure she, Bennett, expects us to be shocked. ‘Enough is enough’ becomes a rallying-cry, and a lot of pressure is put on the sellers to avoid such a scandal. It isn’t at all surprising, the whites’ behaviour following entirely predictable trajectories—as does at least one missile lobbed through the window of the family after they actually do move in. But the fact that we’re inside the thoughts of this woman who grew up ‘colored’ takes us into territory that feels new and strange. It’s why I like the chapters focused on Stella so much. Right up to the moment in 1982 when Jude’s bombshell hits at the end of Part 4, Stella never feels good about any of it. She’s never comfortable in her own skin—somehow, she’s made a life in which she isn’t even in her own skin.

When the ‘Walkers’ move in—he plays a well-known Black character in long-running TV show—Stella behaves like the worst of the whites in the neighbourhood. She’s heard the talk about Loretta, the ‘uppity’ wife, agrees with the women when they complain that the Walkers plan to send their daughter to their own children’s school. When she sees her own daughter playing with the little girl on the new neighbours’ driveway opposite, she whisks her away—’ There was no time to think’—and it only gets worse. Stella finds herself remembering the rich white woman who had behaved just like this when she and Desiree had been playing with her daughter. ‘Stella told her daughter the same thing she’d heard that mother say. “Because we don’t play with niggers,” she said, and maybe it was her harsh tone, or the fact that she’d never said that word to her daughter before, but that was the end of it.’

Oh no it isn’t. The end of it—except in a way Stella can’t possibly predict. She feels terrible for three weeks, bakes a cake, takes it over, feels stupid among Loretta’s friends… and things start to become complicated. She envies the easy friendship among these Black women, and is reminded of how there is nothing in her own life remotely like it. Over time, week by week, first she lets Kennedy play with the daughter again, then starts to be friendly towards Loretta. Things go well—except she can’t tell anybody about it, not the women on the street, not Blake, not anybody. When he wonders where she’s been going in the day, she pretends she’s with one of the white women. But those same women notice the comings and goings—even including meeting up in the park—and it all comes out at Blake and Stella’s Christmas Eve party. One of the women, Dale, asks when her ‘new friend’ is coming, and there are amused glances around when she is confused.

‘Dale laughed. “I’m just asking if your friend from across the street is coming.” Stella paused, her heart thrumming. “She’s not my friend,” she said. “Well, people are saying that you’ve been calling on her….”’ Within moments, the conversation has escalated. It’s Stella herself who does it—‘I don’t think that’s any of your goddamn business’—and suddenly she feels ‘transformed into a totally new creature in their eyes. Something wild and feral.’ She leaves the room and the party collapses… and in a very few months, so does the Walkers’ experiment in crossing boundaries. Stella cuts off almost all contact, and soon some of the men start to try outdoing one another in showing these people they’ve gone too far. A brick goes through a window, injuring the daughter. A bag of excrement appears on their doorstep. And Bennett briefly lets us inside Loretta’s thought-stream as she regrets every moment of the past few months. They move out in the spring.

As I said, it might be my favourite part of the novel. Everything Stella does is wrong—and, somehow, we are feeling her embarrassment, her consciousness of her own missteps, her guilt over the way that in trying to behave naturally for the first time in years, she has alienated everybody. It’s around now that I started to think that this novel is a tragedy—the tragedy at the heart of a country that has been fatally wrong in its attitudes for centuries, and the tragedy of a woman who thinks it might be possible to negotiate a path through those same attitudes. I can’t see there being a happy ending.

Other things happen to Stella between 1968/9 and 1982. That’s when Jude, only wanting to make contact with her lost aunt, confronts her with the intolerable truth of her life. And whenever we’re with Stella, there’s this constant double-think, this knowledge that nobody must ever find out. For a few brief months she had been closer to Loretta than any other woman in her life since Desiree. Sure, she’s married to the successful blond guy with the clean-cut good lucks of a husband on a TV show—but it’s nowhere near enough. After the debacle over Loretta, he’s caring enough, in his unimaginative way, to accept that studying might be a good idea for her. It comes as no surprise that he’s slightly taken aback when she decides to take her studies seriously—he was expecting flower-arranging—and she seems to become too independent for comfort. Meeting a frankly feminist professor helps, Bennett seeming to want to remind us that things were moving on as the 1960s turned into the 1970s.

We don’t see much of that, because we’re back with Jude, four years after she first moved to California and her life with Reese. She’s graduated, and… isn’t doing much beyond earning enough to pay the rent. Reese seems to have lost his way a little too, having set aside any ambitions to be a photographer. But these mundane aspects of their lives are only the background to the interesting bit, Jude’s accidental meeting with Stella’s daughter. She’s another stereotype—Bennett, as we’ve almost come to expect, has her describe herself as exactly that—the rich kid who doesn’t know how to grow up and take life seriously. She’s decided her hobby—I think it’s Jude and Reese’s cross-dressing friend Barry who calls it that, also describing how her friends probably tell her she’s good at it—is what she wants to do with her life. She wants to be an actor. And, by chance, Jude goes to the play she’s in, written by one of Barry’s friends, and sees her.

She knows who Kennedy is, and gets her to confirm that her mother is who she thinks she is by matching up the tiny titbits of biography she has told her daughter. She, Jude, gets a low-paid stagehand job, and becomes Kennedy’s unofficial assistant. She tells Reese why she’s doing it, and he worries that it won’t end well. Why on earth would the darkest girl around want to tell the blonde-haired rich kid that they are cousins?

I’m not going to try to answer that question, because I don’t think Bennett is trying to answer it either. She’s setting up the next ‘what if?’ moment—this novel is based on a whole series of them—which is, what if somebody’s past came back to bite them? That person might have done nothing wrong, but for over two decades she has lived with the fact that she has broken a code of white society that they will never forgive her for. It strikes me that in Part 4, it takes Bennett a long time to get to this point. Jude’s thought-stream, and the choices she decides to make, aren’t nearly as interesting as Stella’s—and I’m astonished that Bennett isn’t offering any further exploration of Jude’s relationship with Reese, despite four years having passed—but we get there in the end. And if this novel really is a tragedy, it’s going to come together in the final two parts. They are shorter than the earlier ones, so things are going to happen quite fast.

And, OK, maybe Bennett will offer some resolution other than the tragic outcome I’m expecting. Whether she does or not, it’s time to read the final two parts.

24 February
Parts 5 and 6—to the end
Tragedy? Not really, unless confirmation of what Stella has known for 25 years counts as tragedy. The last time we see her, she’s back in LA, having been to Mallard and back. She’s left her expensive wedding ring with Early so he and Desiree can raise some cash with it. He refuses at first—he’s driving her to the airport, having found her sneaking out early in the morning—but then takes it and later has it valued. We don’t know whether he sells it or, finally, offers it to Desiree. Bennett doesn’t tell us because she probably doesn’t care any more than we do. (Back in LA, Stella tells Blake she’s lost it which, like all her lies, he believes—unlike Kennedy, who has always understood, without knowing why until now, that she lies all the time. He buys Stella a more expensive custom-made replacement.)

Do I sound unimpressed? Following the powerful dramas of the central sections, these last two feel almost perfunctory. We discover straight off, for some reason, that Kennedy plugs away at her chosen career, gets an important but second-tier role in a soap opera… and, in a charitable moment, I wondered whether Bennett s inviting us to draw a parallel between her character’s inauspicious departure from the show with Stella’s from this novel. Stella has made her bed, and her one-day visit to Mallard is only to make sure that she’ll be able to lie in it for the rest of her life. Which, we assume—although Bennett takes the action no further than the late 1980s, with the twins in their forties—is what she does. On her arrival at the old family home, she is shocked by her mother’s dementia and suspicious of the man who says he is, kind of, Desiree’s husband. She surprises Desiree at the café during the afternoon slack time and, despite Desiree’s anger at first, asks for forgiveness. Which isn’t how it works after 25 years, of course… but they spend an afternoon, evening and night, for what it’s worth, being themselves.

But, basically, it changes nothing. Desiree doesn’t pretend she wasn’t terribly hurt, laughs when she hears Stella married ‘Mr Sanders’—she had heard all about him from a friend who knew the girls in his office in New Orleans—and Stella assures her she’s glad of the choice she made. In other words, in these few hours, there’s no seismic shift. Each of them is shocked by the life lived by the other, but after Stella leaves without daring to face any goodbyes, their lives carry on exactly as before. There doesn’t seem to be any catharsis, just an evening of realising that however different their lives are, and however long the gap since they last met, they are still the twins who grew up inseparable. Yep. And Stella does her best to leave unannounced, all over again.

There are other things to be tied up, more or less neatly and uncontroversially. Kennedy, realising that her mother will never meet her half-way, stops talking about their African American heritage. She also never tells her that she and Jude keep in touch, through awkward little phone conversations from time to time throughout their adult lives. Jude never tells her own mother, either. It’s as though Bennett wants us to understand that things don’t always echo down the years. For a while, Kennedy dates a Black guy, and decides to tell him she has an African American heritage on her mother’s side. He thinks it’s hilarious, and never believes her. Not long after that, she stops mentioning it to anybody and keeps the conversations with her Black cousin a secret from the world.

Meanwhile, Jude’s life has nothing of the drama of Stella’s. It’s one of the things that makes these final sections feel almost pedestrian. She accidentally encounters Kennedy again after four years, in New York. Kennedy is in another unpromising play, while Jude is there because Reese is having an operation. She never tells Kennedy what it’s about, and Bennett goes no further than to mention chest surgery. I find it an extraordinary omission on her part never to mention either any other surgery or, if there is none, what sex is like for them. Is it like lesbian sex? I can imagine that the mechanics of it might be, but everything else would be very different, because this isn’t gay sex. I feel that Bennett shouldn’t have introduced this LGBT thread if she wasn’t going to deal with it fully.

Why New York for the operation? Partly, I suspect, because Jude has moved over half-way there already, now that she’s a medical student in Minneapolis. I count it as another weakness in these last sections that Bennett is too easy on her characters. No life of second-rate coaching jobs for Jude, having now outgrown her college-standard athletic life. Luckily—yes, again—she discovers an aptitude for the practical dissection classes on her anatomy course, and in this novel’s universe that’s enough. She applies for seven medical schools, and Bennett is definitely not going to let her down. And after his operation, Reese is as manly as any red-blooded woman could wish for. He even gets into the habit of wearing nothing above the waist around the apartment. Below the waist… let’s not go there, because Bennett doesn’t.

She’s easy on the others, too. Desiree is stuck at the café in Millard because she and Early have to look after her mother. But then they don’t, because the old lady dies conveniently soon after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She only seems ill for little over a year, and there’s none of that heart-wrenching alienation and anger that usually go with the disease. Meanwhile, Early has mutated from the independent-minded road-haunting chaser and settles down as though it’s always been his life. He is so good with the mother she thinks he’s her son, and scenes with them together are as wholesome as The Waltons. And when Desiree leaves the town, he goes with her. They move to Houston, so he’s able to walk into a job in a different part of the oil business from the one he’d easily found near Mallard. And Desiree, now working in a call centre, is affectionately called Mama D by her young colleagues after only a week. Pass me the sick-bucket. Everybody, including Stella, gets on with their lives pretty well. Reese is even getting small photography commissions….

But by the end, it feels that Bennett has dropped the ball. Jude, the blue-black daughter of a nearly-white mother becomes a doctor, and will no doubt be an asset to any hospital she works in. Kennedy, the super-blonde California girl, becomes a real estate agent with, according to her boss, the Midas touch. And we all know what happened to Midas. Bennett doesn’t offer the connection, so I don’t know if it’s really there, but doesn’t Kennedy’s own nearly-white mother have her own version of the Midas touch? All she’s left with—Bennett is glossing over her teaching career as though it isn’t really important—is enough gold to leave some for the sister she will never see again. If it’s a moral, it doesn’t feel enough. And I’m not sure it is a moral anyway.

The American Dream is alive and well in Houston, Minneapolis, and LA. And wherever it is that Kennedy has washed up. God Bless.

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