#CBR6 Review #79: Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

As an academic, I do enjoy poking fun at myself and my profession every once in awhile. Like any other profession, there is plenty about academia that is ridiculous/absurd/unfair/hilarious. I don’t particularly enjoy Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (and I suspect that has as much to do with the sort of white-boyisms that populate the novel, and that Jim is kind of a twit), and I haven’t yet read any of David Lodge’s work (I hear The British Museum Is Falling Down is excellent, however). So it was a delight and a treat (and a bit painful) to read this short novel by Julie Schumacher.

Dear Committee Members is an epistolary novel about a professor of creative writing at a university. Jason T. Fitger is beleaguered by requests for recommendation letters from students, faculty, and administrators, his sense of failure, and the string of scorned women he has left behind (but immortalized in his novels. Seriously, bad idea, dude). The novel unfolds in a series of letters as Fitger tries to reconcile what he has left of his writing career, promote his promising graduate student’s novella (a bordello adaptation of “Bartleby the Scrivener”), and make his discontent heard in his letters. He is maddening, pathetic, irritating, and profoundly human all at once.

The novel is so very true, I could point to several faculty at all three institutions I went to and say, “Yes, you illustrate this trait very well.” “You would totally say this in a letter.” “Hm, I could see myself doing this.” Schumacher does an excellent job of balancing the grim and the absurd with a satiric eye and witty tone. It’s a Jane Austen expose of human nature within the academic system, and it rings true to life (both good and bad). If you are an academic, I especially recommend this to you, since the scenarios will likely ring true to something of your experience at some level. If you aren’t an academic, you will still enjoy it, though some of the inside jokes may not be as funny or painful.

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