I’ve sat on lots of committees. Lots. I’ve seen behaviour (from adults) on committees that is quite astounding. I’ve often come home from committee meetings muttering “I could fill a book with this crap…”. And although I’m having a ‘committee-free year’, I know there will be more committees in my future because as much as they sometimes make me want to bang heads together or wish that I was spending my Monday nights at home on the couch watching Made in Chelsea, I keep going back for more (in the name of getting shit done). I suspect that Julie Schumacher, author of Dear Committee Members, is also a committee-lover. Or maybe an academic-bureaucracy lover. Or maybe both*.
Dear Committee Members is an epistolary novel, written entirely from the point-of-view of Jason Fitger, a worn-out professor of creative writing and literature at a small, not very distinguished American university. Fitger’s department is facing drastic funding cuts and has been left in squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is lavished with grants and remodeled offices.
“A note here – excuse the indelicacy – on the men’s room in Willard: a subtle but incessant dripping from a pipe in the ceiling (perhaps from the Jacuzzi or bidet being installed for our Economics colleagues) is gradually transforming this previously charming depot into a fetid cavern… I might as well set my desk next to the urinals.”
“…like most universities, Payne is rapidly pricing itself into oblivion, not by giving modest raises to nationally respected scholars, but by starving some departments while building heated yoga studios and indoor climbing walls in others.”
Fitger’s own writing career has faded and his romantic life is non-existent (his ex-wife and the woman he had a brief affair with also work within academia). He spends an inordinate amount of time writing letters of recommendation for his students, hoping to secure them various scholarships or employment. Each letter begins as a restrained but fair assessment of the student or colleague in question however, within a few paragraphs, Fitger’s laconic approach (to everything) creeps in. And the result is very funny, in a dry, toe-curling, excruciating kind of way.
“You could prop him up in a broom closet in his apartment, poke him with the butt end of a mop when you need him to cough up a lecture on Caribbean fiction or the passive voice, and then charge your students a thousand dollars each to correct the essays their classmates have downloaded from a website. Such is the future of education.”
“…may the bump in her salary allow her to avoid scurvy by adding fruit to her diet once a week.”
Don’t be fooled into thinking that a book consisting entirely of letters from one person will be light on plot. Dear Committee Members is quite the opposite – Schumacher weaves a number of plot lines through the letters and one in particular takes a very surprising turn**.
3.5/5 Academics are a law unto themselves so you may as well laugh about it.
I received my copy of Dear Committee Members from the publisher, Harper Press/4th Estate/The Friday Project via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
There were a couple of food references but none that really appealed to me. Instead, try this Blackberry and Meyer Lemon Gin and Tonic from the very lovely Spoon Fork Bacon, chosen because earlier today I overheard a pregnant woman asking the green-grocer specifically for Meyer lemons – I hear you lady! I ate Meyer lemons like oranges when I was having my third baby.
*No, that’s too frightening to contemplate.
**I may have had a little cry.