Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher, review by Shirley Wells
Dear Watermark readers,
I'm writing this LOR (Letter of Recommendation) for the entertaining new epistolary novel Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher.
Ms. Schumacher's warm satire will be delightfully familiar to anyone who has encountered petty beaurocratic bickering, especially within an educational institution such as the fictional Payne University where Professor Jason Fitger, our beleagured letter-writer of a protagonist, is serving out his remaining years as a creative writing instructor while attempting to maintain the previous standards of excellence for which his English department was once noted. Professor Fitger's few remaining students who have not jumped ship for the more dazzling economics department (just one floor above and getting a fabulous make-over to the
detriment of the dusty, musty, and oft-flooded English department below) are busily churning out graphic sci-fi fantasies while their mentor is inundated with requests for letters of recommendation from former and current colleagues and students. Not only does our professor write these LORs to other universities, fellowships, or just entry-level jobs at a paintball emporium, RV park, or Catfish Catering , but he does it with a wit and passive-aggressive style that often insults the very people fromwhom he is currying favor.
In spite of his curmudgeonly tone and highly-entertaining skirmishes with former wives, lovers, and colleagues, Professor Fitger remains a champion for those deserving few, such as the gifted but impoverished student Darren Browles whose unfinished novel Accountant in a Bordello is a “shattering reinterpretation” of Melville's “Bartleby the Scrivener” now set in a legal whorehouse in Nevada. Fitger really does go to extraordinary lengths to assist this young man, and it is here that he reveals his humanity and
generosity. The novel also wistfully reminds us that as we grow older, we are often faced with a quiet sense of failure that comes from facing the truth: we have not become who we wanted to be, professionally or personally.
Much of the fun of the novel comes from the eloquent professor's bitingly-satiric and highly-creative comments (He refers to his university as the World of Payne, with its motto “Teach 'til It Hurts”) and entertaining closings (“In dire comaraderie,” “Yours on the underfunded
wing of the campus,” or “with a bow and an audible scraping noise”). I highly recommend you spend the time you might otherwise devote to devouring another vampire sex-capade or to mindlessly ingesting the latest CSI spin-off to reading this surprisingly poignant yet always amusing jewel of academia instead.
Cordially and with my usual succinctness,