By: Susan Rivers
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication Date: 1/10/2017
My Rating: 4 Stars
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? To what extremes can war and violence push a woman who is left to fend for herself?
Told through letters, court inquests, and journal entries, this saga, inspired by a true incident, 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.
This is one of those books that progresses so seamlessly that you marvel at the authenticity of it. In fact, Susan Rivers has said that the novel was inspired by her discovery of a mysterious crime in South Carolina during the Civil War, and she wrote her novel to make sense of it; once she started writing, the story poured out through these myriad voices. But because Rivers is also a meticulous researcher, every part of the story has some basis in fact. As in Hillary Jordan's Mudbound, you will feel that you're in the hands of a natural storyteller who knows how to breathe life into this period of history, the young Placidia, and all of the people around her. This is a remarkable, moving, and unforgettable debut.
A special thank you to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Review to follow.
Buy the Book
“Susan Rivers sets this spellbinding, haunting human drama against the backdrop of the civil war. 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.”
— Diane Chamberlain, USA Today bestselling author of the Silent Sister
“I gobbled this book up in one in luscious sitting, wishing I could slow down and savor the prose but too eager to find out what happened. Ms. Rivers is an unflinching truth teller. Her characters are so deeply human, drawn with compassion and exquisite detail.”
— Hillary Jordan, author of Mudbound and When She Woke
“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. Similar in tone and descriptive flow to Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (1997) and with the compelling narratives found in Robert Hicks’ The Widow of the South(2005).”-- BookList Starred Review
About the Author
Language is my life; it has led me down unpredictable paths. In hindsight, I begin to understand how those paths have converged on a single road.
I began as a playwright, receiving the Julie Harris Playwriting Award and the New York Drama League Award, working as an NEA Writer-in-Residence in San Francisco, and being named as a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award for British and American Women Playwrights. I am a veteran of the Playwrights Festival at Sundance Institute for the Arts and the Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference and have crossed the country working on productions and workshops of my plays.
Fiction became my focus after starting my family and moving to the Carolinas. I hold an MFA in Fiction-writing from Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina and was awarded a Regional Artist Grant from the Arts and Sciences Council there. Since 2009, my husband and I have made our home in a small, rural town in South Carolina, where stray animals and stories are thick on the ground. (None are turned away.)
I teach English at a university in the upstate region of South Carolina and value my daily interactions with bright young men and women crafting their own relationships with language, heading down their own unpredictable paths. Read More