Review: Dear Committee Members

Posted 24 August, 2015 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Dear Committee Members
By: Julie Schumacher
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can’t catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work Accountant in a Bordello, based on Melville’s Bartleby.

In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies. We recommend Dear Committee Members to you in the strongest possible terms.

This book has been on my wishlist ever since I first heard of it. Academia + letters of reference + passive-aggressive professor = why not? I was so happy when my pre-ordered paperback arrived that I started reading the book immediately xD

Oh, man, what can I say about this book? I thought his passive-agressiveness was going to be subtle but it can be so blatant and sarcastic and droll in its inappropriateness that I can’t help but chuckle. Jay is clearly disillusioned by his job, by the institution and what has become of higher education, by society. There’s truth in what he says, at how higher education has evolved over the years and by some of the careers that new graduates pursue after finishing their degree programmes, and he certainly conveys his opinions is quite a flourishing manner.

It was also quite a shock, surprise, and hilarious delight to see how his personal life has a way of creeping into his letters of recommendation, namely to his ex-wives and ex-girlfriends, mixing university business with personal appeals and reminiscing their time together, analysing their relationships and the breakdown of it and his own personal failings.

But despite of his passive-aggressive remarks, his disappointments and disdains, his letters do shed light on things he holds true, things he believe in: he advocates tirelessly for students he believes in–namely Darren Bowles–and for colleagues. Reading this book, while more about following Jason Fitger over the course of a school year and following the things he has to deal with in academia and less about a particular plot, feels like a sort of cycle as Jay goes through periods of exasperation, disillusionment before coming to a sense of peace at the end of the school year and hope for a fresh new beginning the following semester.

Like the book blurb, I cannot recommend Dear Committee Members enough 😉

Rating: ★★★★★

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