The title of Bebe Moore Campbell's latest novel, 72 Hour Hold, refers to the amount of time a mental patient can be involuntarily hospitalized. Ironically, 72 hours is also the time that must pass before police declare an adult officially missing. Keri Whitmore, Campbell's brave and harried protagonist, has reason to care about both problems: her beautiful daughter, Trina, has just turned 18 when the book begins, and she is bipolar, often violently so.
Keri, a brave and caring woman, should have a cushy life. She owns a shop that sells the castoffs of the rich and famous, and lives in an affluent part of Los Angeles. Trina's inexplicable illness is the biggest blot on her life; Keri likens it to the worst aspects of slavery. It doesn't help that mental illness is stigmatized in the African-American community in a way that it's not in the white community. In Keri's words, "Hell, being black is hard enough. Please don't add crazy." She's wrung with guilt, for guilt is better than acknowledging the randomness of the genetics responsible for her beloved daughter's madness. What's more, Keri's ex-husband is in denial over Trina's condition, and Keri still resents her own mother, a recovering alcoholic who abandoned her.
Campbell writes with great insight. She conveys the terror of a mother whose child frequently goes missing; at her most manic Trina leaps out of cars to disappear into the night.
Campbell brilliantly instills a growing dread in the reader as Trina's illness makes her more and more irrational, destructive and uncontrollable. You know something truly ghastly and irreversible must happen, and wonder how far Keri is willing to go to save Trina's life. Yet Campbell keeps control over this often terrifying story, telling the tale simply, with flashes of warmth and humor. 72 Hour Hold is a devastating book about the limits of love.
Arlene McKanic writes from Jamaica, New York.