Day 1023: The Second Mrs. Hockaday

Cover for The Second Mrs. HockadayBest Book of the Week!
Shortly after the American Civil War, Placidia Hockaday begins a series of letters to her aunt about the peril she finds herself in. But she refuses to say exactly what happened. While her husband, Major Gryffth Hockaday, was away fighting for the South, Placidia had a child and is being accused of murdering it. But at first, all she wants to talk about in her letters is her first meeting with Major Hockaday and the circumstances of her wedding. She was a naive 18, and he was twice her age and a widower with a baby son. They knew each other all of one day.

Eventually, we learn that Placidia, or Dia, as her family calls her, does not know how her baby died. It seems obvious that her real crime is her pregnancy and her refusal to name the father of her child. All she will say is that she cannot betray someone who helped her. Rumors are rampant.

Susan Rivers is pretty clever about how she spins out her story, although at times I got impatient with Dia’s relatives’ squeamishness in avoiding reading her diary of the time. Her son has found it written on the backs of the pictures in a copy of David Copperfield, and the contrast between the picture captions and the content of Dia’s diary provide a note of irony and a whole other level of information. Nevertheless, we are completely captured by the story of her difficult life during the war, as she slowly and with great suspense works her way to the point.

Dia has been left without enough support on a remote farm in South Carolina after only being married a few days. She soon dismisses the slave woman caring for baby Charlie when she sees her smack him. Eventually, she is left with too little help on a farm that is repeatedly looted by deserters and bandits, as well as undergoing normal threats to agriculture by the weather.

link to NetgalleyThis is a powerful novel. If I have any complaints about it, it is for Dia’s devotion to her husband after he leaves her without word or enough help for several years and then, upon returning home and hearing rumors of her illegitimate child, apparently turns her over to the authorities without even speaking to her. Then she decides not to tell him what happened for his own sake.

Told in a series of letters and diary entries, this story gripped me from the first page. it is a forceful depiction of the vicissitudes of war on the innocent civilians and a great character study of a strong woman.

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