Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Disagreement

The disagreement noted in the title of Nick Taylor’s debut novel, The Disagreement, turned out to be a rather serious one leading to a four-year war between two sections of the United States that ultimately cost more than half a million lives and left much of the American south almost completely destroyed.

In Taylor’s story, John Muro, a young Virginian who dreams of attending medical school in Philadelphia, has the misfortune of turning sixteen on the very day of Virginia’s secession from the Union, turning his desire to study in the North into an impossibility. But Muro’s mill-owning parents offer him an alternative that he grudgingly accepts: the chance to attend the University of Virginia Medical School in Charlottesville. Now exempt from military service, but still feeling somewhat cheated, Muro finds himself smitten by Lorrie Wigfall, a beautiful young lady that just happens to be the niece of the doctor in charge of Charlottesville’s military hospital.

As both the war and Muro’s relationship with Lorrie progress, Muro comes under the wing of Lorrie’s Uncle, Dr. Cabell, and abandons his formal studies for a full-time position in the hospital. For the next four years, Muro and some of his fellow students receive a medical baptism of fire during which they learn more about being doctors than they would have ever learned from medical school lectures and labs.

It is only as the war draws to a close that John Muro becomes haunted by his old dream to study and work in Philadelphia. The war has not been kind to him and his family and he finds that his unhappiness with his life and his doubts about his future give him little reason to remain in the devastated South. The real question, though, is whether or not he can turn his back on the people who have meant so much to him during the war. Can he really abandon his defeated country and live among those responsible for destroying his old life?

The Disagreement offers an interesting take on what the Civil War might have been like for those southerners who lived in a war zone for four years. However, the book’s focus is so much on the personal relationships experienced by John Muro that it is easy to forget there is a war going on in the background, even a war as hugely tragic as the American Civil War.

The reader does not get a real sense of the horrors of a military hospital of that period or of the deprivations felt by the average southern family during the last months of the war. While it is true that the book emphasizes the lack of medical supplies available to southern hospitals, other horrors of the war, including the war’s direct impact on the civilian population of war torn states and the tremendous suffering endured by soldiers on both sides, are glossed over and barely touch the reader’s emotions.

Nick Taylor tells a good story in The Disagreement, and I enjoyed it, but it is less a Civil War novel, and more a novel about relationships and loyalties, than I expected it to be when I picked it up.

Rated at: 3.0

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