Diary entries and letters form the basis of this novel about one woman’s experiences during the Civil War.
Placidia Fincher is 17 when she marries Gryffth Hockaday, an enigmatic major in the Confederate army. She spends two days as his wife before his redeployment, when she's left to run his estate and care for his child by an earlier marriage. It’s at least two years before they see each other again, and in that time, Placidia bears a child, and the child dies. The circumstances of the child’s birth and death are unknown in the community but much remarked upon, mainly because Maj. Hockaday could not have been the father. When he finally returns from war, he accuses his young wife of adultery and murder. This is the first novel by Rivers, an award-winning playwright, and it’s a remarkable one. She takes a collage approach to her storytelling, advancing the narrative through letters between Placidia and a cousin, diary entries, and more letters, written decades later, which finally uncover the truth of Placidia’s circumstances. Rivers is adept at doling out information in teaspoon-sized increments, which makes the book hard to put down. And while the Civil War–era language can seem stiff in the early chapters, Rivers seems to smooth out her syntax as the book goes along. There are moments of loveliness amid the struggles and hardships of war, and Rivers is able to depict scenes of horror without exploiting her characters or manipulating her readers. If this book is any indicator, Rivers is a promising talent and an adroit storyteller. Hopefully, this won’t be her only foray into fiction.
A compulsively readable work that takes on the legacy of slavery in the United States, the struggles specific to women, and the possibilities for empathy and forgiveness.