The Second Mrs. Hockaday

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

by Susan Rivers

Hardcover(Large Print)

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“Taut, almost unbearable suspense . . . This galvanizing historical portrait of courage, determination, and abiding love mesmerizes and shocks.” —Booklist (starred review)

“All I had known for certain when I came around the hen house that first evening in July and saw my husband trudging into the yard after lifetimes spent away from us, a borrowed bag in his hand and the shadow of grief on his face, was that he had to be protected at all costs from knowing what had happened in his absence. I did not believe he could survive it.”

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 conjures the era with uncanny immediacy. Amid the desperation of wartime, Placidia sees the social order of her Southern homeland unravel as her views on race and family are transformed. 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 that generation—and the next—began to see their world anew.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781410497888
Publisher: Gale Group
Publication date: 03/22/2017
Edition description: Large Print
Pages: 330
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)

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.

Read an Excerpt

3982 Glenn Springs Road,
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 husband, was dying along with her breeched infant in Leesville. The doctor was in Richmond on work for the government at the time, or would have been at his daughter-in-law’s side. In the aftermath, he worried that his son had developed a very dark outlook, believing there was little purpose in his soldiering when it had cost him the souls dearest to him. Dr. Gordon tells me that he has worked hard to persuade his son that there is a time for war, and when war has been put behind us at last, people will find a way to mend their lives and go back to the full enjoyment of life. That is our natural inclination, he says, and I understand that he means to be encouraging where the major and I are concerned. The soldiers who have lost much will be dissatisfied and angry for a time, he tells me, and may, in their confusion, lash out at the people fondest of them. This will be truest for those who served most loyally, yet for all their courage and purity of purpose found themselves in the ranks of the vanquished, trudging home with little more than the shirts on their backs. It will be more difficult for these warriors, he counsels. They have buried so many comrades, only to find that deliverance will elude them unless they can also bury their shame.

As for my reunion with the major, the moment was unlike anything I expected, despite the fact that I had rehearsed all plausible scenarios a hundred times in the months before he finally returned. Such a gulf stood between us, such a tumult of unexpressed emotions and thoughts, that we were rendered nearly mute by the anomalous quality of our encounter. I do remember that he asked me questions which I tried to answer honestly, if I could do so without implicating others. I took him to the spot beneath the swamp-rose where the child was buried. He wept (I had never seen a man do such), but whether it was for the child, for my sake, or for the wrong done him, I could not determine. One thing was fully evident: he is not the same man. Nor am I the same woman. Our experiences have marked us. Shaped us. And none of those experiences are shared. His hand looks strange with the middle fingers missing; more significantly, Millie, Gryffth has lost that raptor-sight that characterized his intelligence so splendidly. His dark eyes are flat—no longer interpreting, discriminating, divining. Maybe he had to sacrifice that gift in order to survive. Or perhaps it was torn from him in the violent battery of war. But now he only sees what is set before him. That is all he wants to see. Or needs to.

In marveling at how transformed he is, I strive to keep in mind that I am changed quite as totally as the major. It is challenging to remember the child who stood up before Rev. Poteat two years ago with a handful of spring flowers and a joyous heart, who trusted her fate to the good luck she had been born with and to a man blown into her path by the prevailing winds. Cousin, you asked me what transpired when I spoke with Major Hockaday on the morning of our wedding, after I told my father I would see my suitor before making a final decision. I shall tell you, but I doubt it will provide the unifying explanation your mind seeks.

I knocked before entering Father’s study, although it felt strange when I knew Father was not inside. I heard Gryffth speak and opened the door to find him standing at the window Q. V. favored, the Richmond papers lying untouched upon the desk.

Miss Fincher! he exclaimed, as if he had not expected to lay eyes on me again.

Major . . . I began, but faltered, not knowing how to proceed.

He was thinner than I remembered from the day before. More careworn. It reminded me that he had lost his wife less than three months earlier and had nearly buried his baby son. In addition, he had been far from home, fighting a war. His face was unshaven and his uniform, I noticed, looked shabby in the morning light, as if he had tumbled it with a bag of rocks before donning it to call upon my father and stepmother. He was as strange to me as a manatee, dear Cousin. Or an Indian chief. And yet I recognized that he was fully at ease with the man who stood gazing at me from across the carpet: he was open, authentic, concealing nothing—not even the diminution of strength and spirits he was feeling, considering his troubles. The scant value he placed on appearances was also evident in the way he looked at me. Since my sixteenth birthday I have been conscious of how certain men, especially those who lack good breeding, study me with their eyes, as if I were a confection being wheeled past on a cart. A gleam of appetite sparks in their eyes as they take in my face; their gaze moves to the rest of me and evaluates the substantive components along with the decorative ones, weighs the whole, and then returns to my face with the eyes now veiled by a scrim of pretense (easily penetrated, if they only knew!) that attempts to feign mild admiration not yet linked to acquisition. The major’s black eyes, however, did not rove. They fixed on my face and remained there, as if plumbing a body of clear water for its depths. Because their lucent focus was fully unfiltered, I was able to detect the slightest quality of apprehension fluttering there: not as if he feared to be revealed to me, but as if he doubted his right to engage my commitment on the same spartan terms of self-disclosure.

I cannot explain the impossible sensation that stole over me of knowing this man in the deepest recesses of his spirit, of knowing him as intimately as if I were him. Or him me. The thought made me blush, but I did not question it, any more than I had questioned the honeybee in my closed fist. Perhaps he read this in the smile I ventured to offer, for he stepped inside the wreath of vines I occupied on the carpet and ducked his head to look into my face.

I am not wealthy, he said at last. Or handsome. And I’m a long way from “refined.” In other words, I am not the husband you deserve, Miss Fincher. But this is what I know: to wake up beside the person you cherish and who cherishes you in return . . . there is no better refuge from the world than that. Whatever hardships may come. And they do come. They will.

He took a step closer. My heart was thumping so hard I had to sit down or collapse from lightheadedness. I sat. He hesitated, looking about for a straight chair to pull up beside me, but the only one in the room stood behind Father’s desk, and I could see he did not want to take that liberty. After a moment he improvised, resting his hip gingerly on the edge of the desk. His skin, as he leaned close to me, smelled like a sawn plank of cedar.

Despite what I feel, he said quietly—and what I feel is genuine, resolute—I will not presume to lay claim to such a tender and unsullied heart as yours, fair girl, unless you tell me I am correct that in the short time we have been acquainted, you have experienced affectionate regard for me . . . ? You “recognize” me, in some way?

He sat waiting for my answer, but not pressing for it. Because I was too flustered to look him in the face I studied his left hand where it lay on the edge of the walnut desk. His big knuckles gripped the carved edge, the brown skin weathered and crosshatched by scars acquired over the two years he had lived on battlefields and traveled rough country. Without knowing what I was doing I lifted my own hand and placed it flat beside his on the desk, spreading my fingers in a vain attempt to increase the span. His eyes dropped from my face to our hands and we compared them together: the dark and the pale. The rough and the soft. The tested and the untested. Husband and wife. We looked at each other then, and smiled. That’s how it was decided. As simply as that.

I believed him, you understand. About marriage being a refuge. I want to believe him still. But lifetimes have passed since I woke up beside my husband. And I can no longer claim to be cherished.

I enclose his second letter.

Your loving cousin,

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The Second Mrs. Hockaday 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book so much that I recommended it to my book club. It is a different view of the hardships suffered during the Civil War, and gives insight into traditions and culture of the time as seen through the eyes of the main characters. There is definitely an air of suspense that builds throughout the story about what really happened. A great story with a strong female character.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved how this novel was written in the style of 19th century correspondance letters during the civil war! Part mystery and part look into the hardships of the civil war. The humanity and the grotesque of that ugly period in american history are both laid bare in this wonderful novel!
Anonymous 3 months ago
This was such a good book! From all the different points of view, to how a woman dealt with the Civil War and abuse! Write another book!
rendezvous_with_reading More than 1 year ago
Major Gryffth Hockaday is granted a leave from the Civil War when he finds out his wife died two months ago leaving behind an infant boy. While home in South Carolina, he meets Placidia, a teen almost half his age and marries her within just a few days of meeting. He takes her home to run his 300 acre farm and care for his infant child, returning to the war just 2 days after the wedding. When Major Hockaday returns two years later at the end of the war, he hears gossip that accuses Placidia of having borne a child and murdering it. When he arrives at home and confronts her, she refuses to talk about what happened nor will she name the father. Major Hockday files a complaint against her with the magistrate and Placidia is bound for jail. Rumors and gossip fly, but what really happened while the Major was away? I really loved this one! It had the same vibes as one of my favorite books, The Kitchen House, where the war torn south is depicted in all its grittiness. Considering the plot, I was surprised to find the novel written through a series of letters, depositions, and diary entries recorded on the blank pages found in a copy of David Copperfield. Placidia (I just love this name) is mature and confident for her 17 years. Though she only knows the Major a few days, she falls for him quickly, and they exchange heartfelt letters when he leaves, until his letters cease, cutting off knowledge of where he is, or if he is dead or alive. The author keeps you hanging on each chapter as she deftly unwinds the circumstances that have led to Placidia's accused state. This is a great depiction of the true cost of war. It's a story of love, forgiveness and moving forward from tragedy. I listened to this on audio book and finished it in about 24 hours. The 2 person narration was great. But had I read this page for page, I think I would have finished it just a quickly, as it's one that will hold you in its grip to the very end!
Two2dogs More than 1 year ago
loved this novel, could not wait to read how its ends, good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved it: the story, the style, the history, the tragic, the struggle and the strength. All of it woven together to create a beautifully captivating story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
tracygib More than 1 year ago
I felt as the most selfish person in the world reading the horrors that Placidia, a teenaged stepmom to her new husband's baby, endured after her husband of two days went off to fight in the Civil War. As if the turmoil and despair from the war weren't enough, she is subjected to terrible and unthinkable circumstances, which placed her morality and integrity in question to not only those around her but her husband who accuses her of murder and adultery, attempting to prosecute her in court. While I found the plot of this novel very intriguing and deep, the writing lacked substance in the middle. A dreary topic during a dreary time would almost require some breaks of humor or even subtle "wins" of happiness in order for it to not be as devastatingly sad and depressing. While reading, I was very eager to find out what happened to Placidia and also how everyone else resumed their lives. I hoped that I would be able to read more about the relationship between Placidia and the Major, even if in an epilogue. Overall a solid 3 stars - I would give it 3.5 if there were half points because the knowledge and information intertwined in the book were excellent, as well as the descriptive language of the circumstances and scenery. I would recommend to someone who wants a serious read and enjoys historical fiction.
BettyTaylor More than 1 year ago
Using the epistolary technique, this story is told through letters and diary entries. It worked well although I did have to frequently jump to the end of the letter to see who the letter was from. The time line also was a bit confusing at times – letters written between 1863 – 1865 jumping back and forth – then forward to 1892 interspersed with diary entries from 1864. But it really did not distract from the story. As their husbands went off to war, wives were left behind to tend to the crops and livestock. But Union troops (and men dressed as troops) took food and livestock from them, not caring how the families were to survive. Slaves were leaving as the opportunity presented itself. Newly-wed Placidia barely knew her husband when he left her to tend their huge farm and his young son from his previous marriage. This was not a marriage of convenience as they seemed to truly love each other. But two years later when Major Hockaday returns home, he finds that Placidia has been arrested for killing her newborn child, a child that definitely was not his. Can he forgive his love for whatever happened while he was away? And what did happen? Can she be honest with him? Can their love survive? Placidia had to make many critical decisions on her own. Was she an irresponsible teenager? Or wise beyond her years? Did the Major return a cold, heartless man after the horrors of the war, or did his love for his wife cool the anger and shock? Toward the end of the book I was totally engrossed wanting to know how life would treat these brave characters who had to do whatever it took to survive.
Delphimo More than 1 year ago
Susan Rivers weaves a tale seeped deep in Greek Mythology and based on a slave’s document. The gripping epistolary novel jumps from to war years of 1862-1865 to 30 years later. Placidia Fincher sees the somewhat dashing Major Hockaday at her cousin’s wedding, and a day Placidia has married the Major and leaves her home. After traveling 48 hours to the Major’s farm, the young couple has two days of bliss, before Major Hockaday returns to his war duties. Placidia’s writes to her cousin Millie of the troubles of running a farm and caring for the Major’s infant son and her own loneliness. The letters bring awareness to Placidia as she uncovers truths about her father and family. The story becomes very encumbered with Greek mythology and Wikipedia answers many forgotten characters. I listened to an audio version and the male reader spoke too softly, at times.
Delphimo More than 1 year ago
Susan Rivers weaves a tale seeped deep in Greek Mythology and based on a slave’s document. The gripping epistolary novel jumps from to war years of 1862-1865 to 30 years later. Placidia Fincher sees the somewhat dashing Major Hockaday at her cousin’s wedding, and a day Placidia has married the Major and leaves her home. After traveling 48 hours to the Major’s farm, the young couple has two days of bliss, before Major Hockaday returns to his war duties. Placidia’s writes to her cousin Millie of the troubles of running a farm and caring for the Major’s infant son and her own loneliness. The letters bring awareness to Placidia as she uncovers truths about her father and family. The story becomes very encumbered with Greek mythology and Wikipedia answers many forgotten characters. I listened to an audio version and the male reader spoke too softly, at times.
Mirella More than 1 year ago
This beautifully written book is told through the voice of a young seventeen-year-old girl named Placidia through her diary and letters. It is an epistolatory novel that reveals the truth of the murder mystery bit by tantalizing bit. The tale kept me engrossed to the end. With a touch of mystery, secrets, and an enduring love, this is one book set during the Civil War that is not to be missed. Susan Rivers has written a spell-binding first novel. Look for more by Miss Rivers as she has a wonderful talent for storytelling. Definitely highly recommended.
Myndia More than 1 year ago
Set in the South during the Civil War, this novel explores the complexities and horrors of one of the most tumultuous times in US History. Placidia Hockaday marries a soldier she has just met, and is thrust into the responsibilities of taking care of her baby stepson and her new home while her husband of only a few days is called back to the war. When her husband returns, he finds that she has given birth to a baby that cannot be his, and that the child has died in unknown circumstances. When she refuses to tell him (or anyone) the truth of the situation, he has her charged. Little does he know what she has been through in his absence, what she has learned about life and love, about herself, about the society in which they have been living and the vagaries of man in wartime, or what she has suffered while struggling to build a home and a future for them. The beauty of novels written in the form of letters (epistolary, I believe it is called) is they are so very personal. The depth of the relationship between the letter writer and the intended receiver dictates how much information is revealed, how much emotion is conveyed, and it goes a long way in giving the reader insight into each individual character. And somehow it feels so much more honest, genuine, and heartfelt. The other benefit of this approach in this particular book is the ability to unravel details of the story in small pieces, from multiple perspectives, creating a steady thread of suspense about the mystery at hand. It’s a well-crafted patchwork that brings the pieces of the story together beautifully. Some might find it disorienting or confusing at times, but for me it was a part of the joy of reading the book. It jarred me a little, but without creating any sense of disconnection. While I love historical fiction, the Civil War era is not one I’ve read much about, and it took me awhile to get comfortable with the dialects of that period. However, within a few chapters, I had made the adjustment, and I found myself lost in the story. I had just finished another book and had some time left before bed and thought I’d read a chapter or two. Instead, I stayed up late, reading half of it in one sitting, and sadly put it aside to finish the next day. This is a quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed. It heightened my interest in a period of history I’ve not read much about, and did such a wonderful job of highlighting all the complexities of that time. I’d absolutely recommend it. Note: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.
MaureenST More than 1 year ago
It took me a few pages to get into this book, but once I did it quickly became a read that I couldn’t put down. We are soon walking in Palacidia’s shoes, and what a life this young girl led, and where she found the energy and courage to go on is amazing. The book takes place in the South and during the Civil War, and more amazing it is based on a true story. While the text is mostly in the form of letters, and a diary, along with using the illustrations in books for paper, as it was scarce. We see the hardships these people faced, and meet slavery head on, and see it brutality and wonder why the fighting was going on. When you see her in jail, and at one point you wonder if she is going to hang, and it kept me reading as fast as I could to get the answers. Such a powerful story, and one shows the other side of this horrible war, and yet we see the strong side of preservation in hard times. I found myself rooting for her in both the good and bad times, what a great read, and I highly recommend it. I received this book through Net Galley and the Publisher Algonquin Books, and was not required to give a positive review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book for book club and I will say that although some of it held my attention, and most of the characters were believable, there were major draw backs. The letter format was inefficient and sometimes boring. The end story and characters were uninteresting and unnecessary. What I will most remember about this book is that it is written by and for people who have no reaction to black suffering. The whole, long plot build up is based on the confidence that the audience will somehow be shocked that something bad that happens to black women throughout the book finally happens to... a WHITE woman. On top of that there is a highlighted quote at the end claiming that the one bad guy who harms a white person is the evil in the world... not the numerous bad guys who do the same thing and a whole lot worse to black people throughout the book. I read this for book club but I am sure I will never read another book from the point of view of a slave owner. Do people read books from the point of view of female nazi prison guards for recreational reading? I don't think so. Again, this confirms for me that white people are simply unaffected by black suffering.