April 17, 1861, was the date on which the state of Virginia seceded from the Union. In Nick Taylor's richly detailed historical novel The Disagreement, it is also the 16th birthday of the young narrator, John Alan Muro. Muro is swept up in the excitement of the moment, only to realize later that the possibility of war could shatter his secret dream of attending medical school in Philadelphia.
After a cousin is critically injured at the battle of Manassas, Muro's parents choose to send John Alan to medical school at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, more to get him out of the line of fire than out of interest in his studies. As the war progresses and more and more wounded soldiers arrive, Muro is pressed into service at the Charlottesville General Hospital. Despite his lack of expertise, Muro saves the life of a Northern lieutenant, earning the contempt of his peers but starting a lifelong professional and personal relationship that grows in significance over time. In addition, Muro becomes infatuated with Lorrie Wigfall, the capable niece of one of his professors. As they begin a tentative romance amid the battle-scarred soldiers and frightened civilians, Muro is forced to make some very adult decisions regarding what he truly wants and where he belongs.
Taylor's major achievement lies in the creation of a believable narrator whose personality and tone read true to both the time period and his youth. Muro is neither academically gifted nor mature for his years, but he is smart enough to understand that for every road taken, there are an equal number left untraveled. Though comparisons to Charles Frazier's Civil War novel Cold Mountain seem inescapable, The Disagreement holds its own - smaller in scope, but also more personal, closely following one man's emotional and professional development in the midst of a war that offered him both possibilities and limitations.
Lauren Bufferd writes from Nashville.