The Disagreement: A Novel

The Disagreement: A Novel

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by Nick Taylor

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It is April 17, 1861 — the day that Virginia secedes from the Union and the sixteenth birthday of John Alan Muro. As the Commonwealth erupts in celebration, young Muro sees his dream of attending medical school in Philadelphia shattered by the sudden reality of war. Muro's father, believing that the Disagreement will pass, sends his son instead to

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It is April 17, 1861 — the day that Virginia secedes from the Union and the sixteenth birthday of John Alan Muro. As the Commonwealth erupts in celebration, young Muro sees his dream of attending medical school in Philadelphia shattered by the sudden reality of war. Muro's father, believing that the Disagreement will pass, sends his son instead to Charlottesville. Jefferson's forty-year-old University of Virginia has become a haven of rogues and dilettantes, among them Muro's roommate, Braxton Baucom III, a planter's son who attempts to strike a resemblance to General "Stonewall" Jackson. Though the pair toasts lightheartedly "To our studies!" with a local corn whiskey known as "The Bumbler," the war effort soon exerts a sobering influence. Medical students like Muro are pressed into service at the Charlottesville General Hospital, where the inexperienced Dr. Muro saves the life of a Northern lieutenant, earning the scorn of his peers. As the war progresses, Muro takes up yet another cause — winning the affections of the beguiling Miss Lorrie Wigfall. Here, too, Muro faces a cunning adversary. Just as the fighting is closing in, Muro is forced to make a choice that will shape the rest of his life. In this story of love, loyalty, and unimaginable sacrifice, a doctor struggles to balance the passions of youth with the weight of responsibility.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The Civil War is but the noisiest of the struggles that the ambivalent hero of this historical novel wants to distance himself from. In 1862, at age 17, John Muro is packed off from Lynchburg to the University of Virginia Medical School, a berth that exempts him from the Confederate draft. Thanks to a flood of casualties, he's soon promoted to full-fledged doctor at the local military hospital, where his sense of detachment helps him deal with the carnage of war-and spills over into the rest of his life. He coldly repudiates his family after their textile mill fails; he's so inattentive to his beautiful girlfriend, Lorrie, that she has to browbeat him into courtship; and his best friend is a wounded Union POW who awakens John's longing to head North. John appraises the world with a clinical mindset ("Her affect, surprisingly, was like that of a patient suffering from one of the tropical fevers" he observes during his first kiss with Lorrie) that excuses his passivity and irresponsibility. Debut novelist Taylor recreates the detail-if not always the spirit-of the Confederacy's Victorian language and culture. But as John struggles to avoid entanglement with the (often underdeveloped) characters around him, his coming-of-age saga remains uninvolving. (Apr.)

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Kirkus Reviews
A coming-of-age story is merged with a Civil War tale in Taylor's debut novel. Narrator John Naro, of Lynchburg, Va., turns 16 the day in 1861 that his state secedes from the Union. The town rejoices but his father's reaction is muted, even though his wool mill benefits from new orders, necessitating the purchase of more slaves. The reality of the war hits home when cousin Sam returns, having lost a leg at Manassas. The following year John's father allows him to leave for Charlottesville, to become a medical student at the University of Virginia (the author's alma mater); it's here that John's story really starts. The war soon forces him to move from the classroom to the adjacent hospital, where he accompanies his professor, Dr. Cabell, on rounds, gaining priceless hands-on experience; his limited spare time he spends courting Lorrie, Cabell's beautiful but prickly niece. Taylor wears the past as comfortably as an old shoe, and the credibility of John's hospital experience is the novel's greatest strength; however, this tight focus sometimes seems like tunnel vision. It's not as though life back in Lynchburg lacks for drama. On a visit home, John finds Sam, now running the mill, has freed all the slaves, to the dismay of their picketing neighbors. Yet his family, falling apart as bankruptcy looms, gets less attention from the author than a Christmas dinner Lorrie prepares for the hospital, or her elite social circle. While John labors selflessly in the wards, his rejection of his now invisible family becomes ice-cold and total. He replaces them with a surrogate father, a lieutenant from the North whose life he saved, and Lorrie, who he marries in 1864. The surrender of the university,quietly negotiated by the faculty chairman, counts for less than John's marital problems. His desperate attempt to end those problems leads to a melodramatic turnaround. Misplaced emphases and a somewhat sanctimonious lead weaken an otherwise robust debut. Agent: Jennifer Carlson/Dunow, Carlson & Lerner

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Chapter 1

On April 17, 1861, I enjoyed the sensation of one whose birthday falls on Christmas. I woke unusually early, along with everyone in the Commonwealth of Virginia. That day our legislature was to vote on secession -- a crisis that had begun as a whisper among gossipmongers not a year prior but had grown with the frenzy of a revival into a statewide obsession. The newspapers had for weeks detailed the debate in Richmond, from the rhetorical thrusts and parries at the statehouse to the curt and somber replies of Mr. Lincoln, whose anointment the previous autumn so inflamed the passions of our men.

As a youth of fifteen, I had not been involved substantially in the secession crisis, but I enjoyed the high drama of the proceedings, and I followed them with a greedy eye. Earlier that spring my father had hosted a meal for our delegate and a dozen men of business. The ostensible purpose of the gathering had been to gauge local support for secession, but these being men of practical appetites, the talk soon turned to the prospect of war and the demands this might place on our local mills and factories. "If there is any fighting," the pompous delegate announced, "it shan't continue long enough to bring any lucre hereabouts, fellows. The Yanks know our purpose, and they know our differences, and they will respect our intention sooner or later. The thought in Richmond, I must tell you, is that they will be too blanched to fight." The men laughed and clapped one another on the back. This I observed from the sanctuary of our kitchen, where I had finished helping Mother and Peg with the service and was eating my share at the kitchen table.

The delegate -- his name was Coggin -- was distinguished by a pair of unruly snow white eyebrows that sprung from his face like owl feathers. He was a consummate politician -- which is to say he was given to expedient speech and lacked even a vestigial spine.

The telegraph from Mr. Coggin, who was in Richmond for the vote, arrived at the Lynchburg post office just after one o'clock. I had spent the morning in the square, pitching horse-shoes with some other boys. Though it was a Wednesday, we had not shown our faces at school, feeling assured that a Special Circumstance excused us from truancy.

The taverns along the square were packed with a rare noonday crowd. Like me, these citizens could not bear to wait any longer for the news than was absolutely necessary. However, decorum mandated that these men not be seen loitering with boys in the street, so they made pretenses at business and meal taking. The tavern doors could almost be seen to bulge with the swell.

At the doors of the town stable, across the square from the post office, a circle of five or six Negroes gathered in idle chatter. As Wednesday was seldom a slave's day at liberty, I assumed that these had been sent by their masters to await the news and carry it back post-haste. Indeed, the animals in the first stalls were ready in saddle, with reins tied quickly to the rail.

Just after the one o'clock bell the post office door swung open and the postmaster -- a wasted but well-meaning old man by the name of Tad Keithly -- strode out onto the top step. Those of us near enough saw his smile ablaze, and we could guess the news. In truth, though, no one ever questioned what the news would be. "I have word from Mr. Coggin!" the postmaster shouted generally -- the taverns having emptied into the square, so that his audience numbered well into the hundreds. "The votes are in, and they are eighty-eight in favor, fifty-five opposed." He paused and let that little bit of silence grow like the drop of melt at the tip of an icicle. "Gentlemen, we have it! God bless the unencumbered Commonwealth of Virginia!" And then Keithly's eyes began to water. Indeed, all around me grown men began to weep and embrace one another. I saw that it was not regret in their tears but rather the opposite. With unbridled joy men commenced to cheer and whoop and fire their pistols into the air. I hollered from a place deep between my lungs, but the crack of gunfire obscured my voice. I did not know if I was creating any sound at all.

The air reeked with the acrid tang of powder. My nose filled up with dust from the street as horses thundered out of the stable. I ran to the door of the nearest tavern to avoid being trampled. A few men remained inside the tavern, and I recognized several as business acquaintances of my father, men who had been present at our dinner with Mr. Coggin. The eldest of these, a man whose mustache puffed out over his lip like a squirrel's tail, stood up to begin a toast. I could not hear his words, but several times he brought laughter from the group and had to pause. At last he raised a bottle of whiskey above his head. As the others cheered, the old man put the bottle to his lips and drank a ten count. When he pulled off, a runnel of brown liquor leaked from the side of his mouth and he wiped it with his starched white cuff.

Taking heed not to fall into the path of a messenger's horse, I picked my way to the other side of the square, beyond which I would hasten home. On Wednesdays the street that led most directly from the square to our neighborhood was filled out with grocers' stalls, and it was in front of one of these that I was stopped by a flat hand in my chest. A white farmer obscured my path. His beard was shot through with petals from the spring lungwort. After a moment's consideration of my face, he lowered his hand and plunged it into a sack hanging at his side, from which he removed a yellow rose. "God bless," he said, and he handed me the flower. Copyright © 2008 by Nick Taylor

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Disagreement 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For a first-time novelist Nick Taylor attempts a daunting subject: the training of a young doctor during the American Civil War at the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville. I've read any number of novels and historical texts from the same era, and this is the first detailed piece I seen on the organization and work in a Confederate hospital. I particularly enjoyed the details provided for the conversation from traditional pharmacy to earlier, plant-based treatments. At the same time, it appears that much of the original manuscript was cut by editors, or Taylor simply didn't delve into material that would have made for a more complete novel. For example, although the medical staff was always on the alert for patients from battlefields, very little information is provided on which battles they were and locations. Gettysburg, a bloodbath if there ever was one, is given scant reference on the enormity of the battle and patients sent to hospitals. Indeed, it appears to be a distant shadow to the story rather than the death blow to the Confederacy. Instead, much of the story revolves around the social life of the central character, his dating relationship and marriage to a young women that ends up like a series of Jerry Springer episodes. Additionally, a charismatic roommate and close friend becomes embroiled in a legel trouble and the issue disappears from the story with little importance after lengthy description. These aspects of the book are especially challenging, given the endless list of novels and movies of the sterotypical South. There are other sections of the novel where lengthy details and descriptions are made, but after interesting development the subjects disappear from the story again, poor editing. But Taylor has talent, and it's obvious he enjoys researching under-reported subjects. Let's hope his next novel is not cut too deeply so we can enjoy the full effects of the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is wonderful.I loved it.Everyone should buy this book By Nick Taylor.This is my dads girlfriends brother and he worked so hard on it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Quite exceptionally interesting with vivid characters. The romance was tangible, the period well-developed...although I would have preferred more historic details, but that is purely personal preference. I could smell a modern-day sweat on this historic piece -- not sure if this was the intention of the author. I bought this book after stumbling upon the author's reading at our local bookstore. Aside from an obnoxious wife in the crowd peddling the book like a mad, silly, insincere saleswoman, the reading was delightful. The author was well-spoken, charismatic, and gifted per the reading. Catch the reading, if he's in your city.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The main character is a young man who is raised in peacetime. He becomed a doctor and is treating disease and wounded patients dying all the time. This never really seems to touch him much. As critical care nurse and the reader of many civil war diaries I found this annoying. I feel the author should have spent some time in a trauma center and watched the news.