Summary and book reviews of The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

by Susan Rivers

The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers X
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2017, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2017, 288 pages

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Book Summary

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.

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.

3982 Glenn Springs Road,

GLENN SPRINGS, SOUTH CAROLINA

September 29, 1865

Dear Millie, Dr. Gordon knew my father when they were students at South Carolina College. He did not realize whose daughter I was when he performed the examination of my baby's remains; that is how I am assured of his objectivity, a rare attribute in local people of my acquaintance. While the extent of decomposition prevented a conclusive cause of death, the doctor reports that the child did not suffer trauma, and while drowning or suffocation cannot be entirely ruled out, he concludes that he most likely died of exposure. It was not the doctor's opinion that I exposed the baby intentionally — that accusation comes from the magistrate. The doctor asked to speak to me, however, after examining the remains, and that is when we discovered our connection. I learned what an empathetic man he is (also rare). When Dr. Gordon's son was fighting at Second Manassas, his young wife, unbeknownst to her ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Why is the story told in documents — letters, inquest reports, and diary entries — rather than a continuous narrative from one point of view? What do you think the writer intended to achieve by using this approach to the story? How does it affect a reader's relationship to the story?
  2. Placidia agrees to marry Major Gryffth Hockaday after knowing him for less than a day — a short engagement, even by war - time standards. What do you think motivates her to accept his proposal and exchange the security of her home for an unknown adventure with this man? What does she mean when she says to her cousin Mildred, and, later, to her children, that "life is all about the leaps" (pages 12 and 214)?
  3. Discuss the role played in the ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about The Second Mrs. Hockaday.
You can see the full discussion here.


Consider Placidia's relationships with other women in the novel. Who does she have conflict with? Who does she bond with? Why?
I think she was wise in knowing who she could trust and who she couldn't. Race wasn't the issue—the women she didn't trust were hateful and not just to her. - jamiek

Discuss Achilles' decision to read his mother's diary. Would you have done the same?
I would have even if I was warned not too. Unfortunately, I am not one to hold on to something and not look at it. Don't trust me with Pandora's Box... - andreab

Do you feel sympathy toward Major Hockaday's behavior when he returns from the war?
Yes, I felt sympathy for him. Thoughts of his wife got him through the war. But he eventfully came home to a wife that he felt betrayed her. He was only human so what was he to think especially when his wife would not explain herself. Love doesn't ... - bettyt

Do you think Abner and Nerissa have a future together?
I like to think so. There weren't a whole lot of happy endings at that time, so I like to think that they should have made a future together. - jeannew

How did reading The Second Mrs Hocking add to or change your understanding of the events of the Civil War?
I never thought about the women left behind that much except for my reading of Gone with the Wind. This book made me more aware of the struggles of these women. I imagine it was difficult for the women in the North too but they may have faced other ... - dorothyl

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Told in haunting and moving prose through journal entries and correspondence, this story based on actual events tells of a newly married young woman left home alone with just the servants and her husband's infant son after her officer husband is called back to fight for the Confederacy. Returning home years later, he finds his wife has been accused of a horrible crime of which she will not speak. It's at once a love story, a history lesson and a beautifully written tale of forgiveness.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Told through gripping, suspenseful letters, court documents, and diary entries, Rivers's story spans three decades to show the rippling effects of buried secrets.

Library Journal
Fans of Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders and Sarah Blake's The Postmistress will enjoy this solid historical novel, which is also a good choice for book clubs, as Dia's motivations for her actions will yield great discussions.

Kirkus Reviews
A compulsively readable work that takes on the legacy of slavery in the United States, the struggles specific to women, and the possibilities for empathy and forgiveness.

Booklist
Starred Review. With language evocative of the South ('craggy as a shagbark stump') and taut, almost unbearable suspense, dramatized by characters readers will swear they know, this galvanizing historical portrait of courage, determination, and abiding love mesmerizes and shocks.

Author Blurb Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound
I gobbled this book up in one sitting, wishing I could slow down and savor the prose but too eager to find out what happened. Rivers is an unflinching truth teller. Her characters are deeply human, drawn with compassion and exquisite detail.

Author Blurb Diane Chamberlain, author of The Silent Sister
Told through exquisitely crafted letters and diary entries, the delicious pacing leads to revelations both intriguing and unnerving. I was sorry to reach the end of this stunning debut.

Author Blurb Alice LaPlante, author of A Circle of Wives
Her deeply sympathetic characters cope with the hard truths of slavery and war, maintaining their humanity and capability for redemption throughout. A thoroughly engrossing and affecting read.

Reader Reviews

Cariola

Beautifully Written Civil War Story
Placidia was only 17 and not even thinking of marriage when widower Major Gryff Hockaday swept her off her. She had a single day to decide whether to accept his proposal. Only a few days after they married, the major was called back to join his ...   Read More

Jennifer Shaw

The Second Mrs Hockaday
I really enjoyed this civil war historical drama. I think my group will have plenty to discuss with this book and I plan to order it for my book club. The rich characters and realistic plot kept me engaged and I read it through in one sitting.

Kathleen B. (Las Vegas, NV)

Loved it!
I love historical mysteries most of all and this was one of the best. I think that this was based on a true story in incredible but as is often said true life is stranger than fiction. The letter and diary entries were such a great way to write this ...   Read More

Patricia W. (Homewood, AL)

One of the best Historical Fictions
"The Second Mrs. Hockaday" is one of the best historical fiction novels I have read. I was caught up with the characters and the description of life during that time of the Civil War at the very beginning. Susan Rivers used her research to make her...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Sugar House

The Sugar HouseIn The Second Mrs. Hockaday, Susan Rivers' historical novel about the Civil War, Mr. Hockaday says to his new wife: "... there's an Armory in Holland Crossroads. A market hall in Traveler's Joy. In Charleston, it's the Sugar House. It's where servants are sent to be corrected." This novel, of course, like all historical novels, is based on true events and Rivers did her research for it using a number of documents. One document is an 1838 article written by a slave who was detained for three months in the Sugar House, a part of the Charleston city jail, located in South Carolina. The article, titled "Recollections of a Runaway Slave", was published in an abolitionist newspaper based in Maine, the Advocate of Freedom.

The Sugar House &#...

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