When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away?
Inspired by a true incident, this saga unfolds with gripping intensity, conjuring the era with uncanny immediacy. Amid the desperation of wartime, Placidia sees the social order of her Southern homeland unravel. As she comes to understand how her own history is linked to one runaway slave, her perspective on race and family are upended. A love story, a story of racial divide, and a story of the South as it fell in the war, The Second Mrs. Hockaday reveals how this generation–and the next–began to see their world anew.
Author: Susan Rivers
Title: The Second Mrs. Hockaday
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: January 10th, 2017 by Algonquin Books
17-year-old Placidia has barely met Major Gryffth Hockaday when she agrees to marry him. Leaving her childhood home behind, she travels with her new husband to the farm that is her new home, and meets her infant step-son for the first time. Placidia and Gryffth have two brief days together as husband and wife before he must return to fight in the Civil War. Young Placidia is left to care for her new child in her new home, and is ill-prepared for either task. Despite the weight of so much responsibility on her shoulders, Placidia adapts as best she can, and longs for the day her husband will come home to her.
When Gryffth returns two years later, he is shocked to hear his wife recently gave birth to a baby, and has been accused of killing the child. Despite Gryffth (and others) demanding to know who fathered the child, Placidia refuses to name him, though her reasons for remaining mute are a mystery.
The story is told in a series of letters written by Placidia and others, as well as diary entries. That may be off-putting to some readers, but being told in an unconventional way didn’t harm the narrative in the least. It won’t work for every story, but I felt it worked beautifully for this one.
WHAT I LIKED:
The secrets. There are layers of secrets in this story, and two big ones caught me by surprise when they were revealed. I’m always delighted when a secret is revealed that I never even came close to guessing, and that was the case with these particular secrets.
The history. We weren’t given a blow-by-blow of every single battle/skirmish during Gryffth’s two year absence, but that’s a good thing, as it wouldn’t have fit in this story. Instead, we got just enough to remember that Gryffth was off fighting in the war somewhere.
Stayed true to the time period. There’s nothing more infuriating for me than reading something that’s out of place (or rather, time) in historical novels. Luckily, that wasn’t the case here—the clothing, the language, social mores—everything was as it should be.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
Please, can I have some more? I would have liked a bit more story dealing with Placidia’s step-mother and step-sister, and perhaps Achilles, as well. But I suppose that’s mostly because the characters were interesting to me, not because their storylines were lacking in some way.
Rivers debut is well worth the read. Replete with engaging characters, intense drama, and stunning plot twists, it’s an excellent novel to curl up with on a cold winter’s day.
About the Author
Susan Rivers was awarded the Julie Harris Playwriting Award for Overnight Lows and the New York Drama League Award for Understatements. She is also the recipient of two playwriting grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and has had short fiction published in the Santa Monica Review. In 2007 she earned an MFA in fiction writing from Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina, where she was also awarded a Regional Artist Grant from the Arts and Sciences Council. She currently lives and writes in a small town in upstate South Carolina. The Second Mrs. Hockaday is her first novel.
Author photo and bio via Goodreads.