“The Second Mrs. Hockaday: A Novel” by Susan Rivers

Publication Date:  Jan. 10, 2017

Publisher:  Algonquin Books

I simply fell in love with this historical fiction inspired by the true story of Elizabeth and Arthur Kennedy.  A seventeen year old Southern girl, of well means, marries a Major in the confederated army during the Civil War.  He is an older man, with a toddler boy.  He lost has his wife, the first Mrs. Hockaday, almost two years prior.  The new bride leaves her home to begin her life as a farm wife.  Unfortunately, the Major needs to return to his men in battle after just a week into his marriage.  In his defense he never (as most of the South) expected a long, crippling war to keep him away from his bride for so long.   Nor did he anticipate all the hardships that she would have to endure while he was gone. His young bride would have been ill prepared to run a farm even if her husband was by her side.  The fact that she is running this farm alone in the desperate times of losing the war to the Union Army and still manages to survive is unfathomable.

The lessons she had to ascertain from learning how to use a shotgun to protect herself and her land, to learning the cruel realities of slavery, as well as the many other hardships she went through on a daily basis were heart wrenching to read.   Her one and only night away from trying to hold together what is falling apart is to visit her stepsister who married a wealthy young man sill living at home with his wife.  It appears that even back then the sons of the rich never go to war unless they choose to.  Her stepsister is shocked to see how thin, worn out and nearly unrecognizable she has become.  Our brave protagonist hastily departs her stepsister’s home for she is disgusted with their lack of sacrifice and shallow ways.  She leaves before asking for a loan which she felt would not be given to her anyway.  For this is the first time she becomes aware of her stepsister’s jealousy.  The young wife’s courage never ceases.  She reminds me of a moral Scarlett O’Hara which makes her legal situation all the harder to forgive.  During her husband’s absence while he is fighting a losing battle and then as a prisoner of war, she gave birth to an illegitimate child, a crime by itself, and is accused of murdering the infant.

The novel is told in an unusual format that I enjoyed; entirely through letters, journal and other records.  It is not written as a linear tale.  It goes back and forth in time from during the war and thirty years following its conclusion. The story had everything that I love in a good read; a believable story, the author’s notes show well researched historical facts, unheard of bravery without being written overly sentimental, a love story that is not in the romantic genre which I do not care for, as well as mystery surrounding the dead baby’s father and cause of the infant’s death.  A real page turner that I simply could not put down. I finished the book in the span of one night.  The author showed such skill that it is hard to believe that this is a debut novel.



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