Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Julie Schumacher, Dear Committee Members

Let me start off by saying that I gave this novel 5 stars.  The novel consists entirely of letters written by Professor Jay Fitger about the quirks of faculty and university life, as well as the complicated matter of writing letters of recommendations for every student who asks.  He writes to the dean, the associate dean, the department chair, scholarships and awards committees, his literary agent, the director of a writers' retreat, and both his ex-wife and his former girlfriend.  He also writes letters of recommendation for students pursuing graduate studies or trying to get jobs.  He writes for his excellent students, and for students who have failed his course.  It's clear that he is fed up with having to write all of these emails, memos, and letters.

The novel is a satire, and for those of us who work in colleges or universities, the letters, memos, and emails he writes are very familiar.  Most of us have written similar documents, or received them.  Schumacher satirizes these extremely well, evoking the form, structure, and voice of these kinds of documents, while simultaneously mocking them.  Each letter or memo in the novel has a consistent voice--as you move from one letter to the next, there is no question that Fitger is the author.

I don't know whether this novel would be successful with a reader who has not lived in the institutional culture of universities.  It seems to me that there are inside jokes and references which would go unnoticed, and I can't decide whether or not the novel would seem tedious to non-academics.  Many of the letters are, however, very funny even if you haven't ever written a letter of recommendation.  It's a hilarious novel, and I hope that humor is evident to all its readers.

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