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

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

by Susan Rivers

The Second Mrs. Hockaday
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  • Published:
    Jan 2017, 272 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 know - ing 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 ...
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Reviews

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

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

Gretchen M. (Martinsburg, WV)

Strong female character
This book held my attention due to the format (told in a series of letters) and the fact that it presented another new Civil War storyline. I loved the strength of Placidia who was a teenager swept up in a marriage to an officer whom she comes to ...   Read More

Linda L. (Pickerington, OH)

Historical fiction at it's best!
Bravo! A wide spectrum of unforgettable characters populate this story of the Civil War. Skillfully written, this is not light reading. Using only letters and diary entries, The Second Mrs. Hockaday haunted my thoughts for many days. Even though ...   Read More

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