Monday, January 9, 2017

The Second Mrs Hockaday ~ Susan Rivers (earc) review [@AlgonquinBooks]

The Second Mrs. Hockaday
Algonquin Books
January 10, 2017
272 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from Book Depo/or Amazon

“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.
I loved that The Second Mrs. Hockaday wasn't told in the normal, chronological order. We begin at what feels like an ending (not the ending, but an ending nonetheless), only to then go back to the beginning through Placidia's correspondence with a relative. We see how she and Major Hockaday met, their fast courtship and marriage and the new life she finds herself in, alone.

With her husband off at war, there is much for Placidia to do: responsible for a whole farm, a young stepson and all without any sort of transition period We get a glimpse into how Placidia - and other women like her - faced dangers different from those of armies and war, but no less real.

The author does a great job giving readers a look at how life could be difficult for those in the South while also giving us a main character who's more than ready for the war to be over and has no delusions that the world is about to be very different.

Through focusing on Placidia's life during the civil war, the circumstances of her marriage and separation from her husband, managing the Holland Creek farm and those working it, and who she is (and is not) able to rely on, we also get a broader picture of life at the time. We see who did and did not go to the war and why those that did not didn't and we see how different people view what is happening and what's likely to happen. It shows much about them and their charcter.

Though we go back to when Major Hockaday and Placidia met and move forward from there, it is not a straight line back to where we began the book. Just when it seems that we are on the verge of getting the answers Placidia has been so careful to conceal, we move to a different time. We're able to see the aftermath of things and then see how other characters deal with the news before working back to things. It is a way of telling the story that not only keeps you in a bit of suspense but draws you more closely in to the characters, their relationships and emotions than if the story had just been told straight through beginning to end.

The Second Mrs Hockaday is Susan Rivers' first novel and its writing, characters and story have me looking forward to what she writes next.

review copy received, via NetGalley, thanks to publisher

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