Sunday, April 12, 2015

Alphabet Soup Challenge: Julie Schumacher - Dear Committee Members

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.

Comment: I knew about this book last year when I was browsing Goodreads and somehow I ended up reading the blurb of this book. I like epistolary novels and I was very curious to read another one and even more so when I realized this was centered around academia. I pre order this new edition and this month I finally got to it.

This story is told from professor Fitger's letters, because he can't stand emails, and how he must deal with a world of bureaucracy and letters of recommendation (LORs) for everyone and everything as part of his duties. While dealing with personal issues and professional problems he still tries to find the time to be as fair and honest as possible in his LORs but sometimes things aren't fast enough in such a demanding world...

I was really surprised this story was told only through professor Fitger's letters as he doesn't have any replies, or should I say, we the reader don't have access to any replies unless professor Fitger says so in the letters he answers to or sends to someone else.
Writing in this style isn't easy because information has to be told in a very precise way but still not in an unbelievable form, after all the letters aren't diaries where authors can write anything. Still, the author f this book, ms Shumacher managed to do well and to create a character that is probably so much like many teachers out there, forced to do things they would rather not but it seems academia can't put aside papers and too many tasks before something is actually accomplished.
I think this side of the book was well done, well portrayed and the incisive but sarcastic way Fitger writes is proof of his intelligence and lack of powers to change how things are done, even in small universities that fight lack or decrease of funds all the time.

The letters are mostly dedicated to two things, or Fitger's personal issues which he shares in his professional letters, or the LORs he is requested to write all the time.
The letters show a character that knows he hasn't led the most peaceful life and his personal dilemmas often went through his professional life making him a sort of person others seem to endure and not really are friendly to. He doesn't seem to be able to separate matters and his work is his life.
But he's smart and dedicated to his beliefs even if only trying to correct others of the proper use of grammar use.

But my favorite letters were the LORs, in which he can see his personality and wit and sarcasm in all its amazing glory. There are countless examples of these LORs which he writes often, from the student who cheated on class so he told so to the employers she applied to and also a student who applies to an internship with a senator and he says she did go beyond wikipedia research. 
One of my favorite LORs was the one he sent to a firm but he had trouble finding an address and even contacting the student so he writes some witty words and concludes with:
"should your firm and mr Mehta abandon your respective cloaks of anonymity and locate each other, I believe you will be reasonably satisfied with his organizational and writing skills"

I confess I laughed out loud with his one.
Actually I laughed about many things in this novel.

Professor Fitger writes a lot of profound things hidden behind the irony and sarcasm especially while defending his favorite student who he truly believes is a prodigy in the making.
I liked all his words trying to help this student and how strongly he defended what he thought - even if that wasn't true - a person he recognized as promising but unappreciated.
The end to this problem I didn't see coming but it only shows to prove the power of words and promises and hopes shattered.
The way things are written is really the proof this author knows her language, her ideas, and executes it well.  This tale about a somewhat ignored teacher who writes by hand and shows the passing of time affects everyone and everything is truly special and his personality is loud and clear in each letter.
I had a great time getting to know him and be happy with his clever letters and even when he had to deal with more serious problems and situations.
This book is good for me and I hope more readers can give it's witty words a chance.
Grade: 7/10

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