The basic premise of Dear Committee Members is a simple one: middle-aged academic writes Letters of Recommendation – for his students and for his colleagues. However, Jason Fitger, Professor of Creative Writing and English, Payne University does not write straight, sincere letters, oh no.
I assume Kentrell is behind this request; no sane person would nominate a man whose only recent publications consist of personal genealogical material and who wears visible sock garters in class – all he lacks is a white tin basin to resemble a nineteenth-century barber.
But if you want me to endorse his nomination in order to keep him quiet and away from your office (you will find him as persistent and maddening as a fly), you may excerpt the following sentences and affix my name to them: “Professor Franklin Kentrell has a singular mind and a unique approach to the discipline. He is sui generis. The Davidson Chair has never seen his like before.”
Fitger has several problems. Firstly, his student, Darren Browles, whom he believes is brilliant, is trying to finish a novel called Accountant in a Bordello, a retelling of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener, set in a 1960s brothel just outside Las Vegas. Browles has lost his funding and without it is unable to complete the book. A number of the letters Fitger writes are in support of Browles, attempting to get him funding or a publisher.
Which brings us to problem number two – his ex-lovers. His ex-wife, Janet, is good friends with Eleanor Acton, Director of the Bentham Literary Residency Programme; his ex-lover, Carole Samarkind, who dumped him after he sent a ‘reply all’ email to everyone on campus, is the Associate Director of Student Services, and Janet herself is an academic in the university’s law school. Consequently, Fitger has to send letters of recommendation to all of them and we see him attempting to make amends for his misdemeanours.
Thirdly, the building the English department is housed in is being ‘remodelled’:
Yesterday afternoon during my Muticultural American Literature class, I watched a wrecking ball swinging like a hypnotist’s watch just past the window…those of us who remain as castaways here in Willard Hall risk not only deafness but mutation: as of next week we have been instructed to keep our windows tightly closed due to “particulate matter” – but my office window (here’s the amusing part, Ted) no longer shuts. One theory here: the deanery is annoyed with our requests for parity and, weary of waiting for us to retire, has decided to kill us.
And finally, Fitger’s spending so much time writing letters of recommendation that he hasn’t published a work of his own in six years, during which time, his previous novels have fallen out of print.
Dear Committee Members is an amusing look at one academic’s life as he attempts to iron out problems in his professional and personal spheres, some of which he seems to have spent his entire life creating. Schumacher weaves the details of Fitger’s issues neatly into the letters, the seemingly flippant tone she provides him with allowing this to appear natural. This will be a funny book even if you know nothing about academia but if you do have any insight into university life from a work point of view, its pointed insights are hilarious.
Thanks to the Friday Project for the review copy.