Dear Committee Members is a clever epistolary novel mainly composed of letters of recommendation written by Jay Fitger, a cynical creative writing professor at Payne University, located somewhere in Minnesota. The letters are mostly hilarious and reveal a lot about Fitger, academia, and the practically of an English degree.
I read Dear Committee Members as part of the 2020 Thoughtful Reading Challenge. October’s challenge is to read a book set on a college campus. I’m glad I chose Dear Committee Members because it was the “smart but light” palate cleanser I needed after reading the disturbing Flyboys last month.
Jay Fitger is a tenured professor whose career as a successful author has floundered. His one successful novel was a thinly disguised story about his experience as an academic, complete with adultery and other sexual hijinks. Needless to say, the people represented in the story were not amused. Turns out that Fitger has a long and accomplished history of alienating the people in his life.
Frustrated that his writing career has stalled, he aims his creative writing skills at the many letters of recommendation he has to write. In these letters, he manages to insult the people he’s recommending and the schools or businesses they’re applying to. He also weaves in inappropriate content about topics like his past relationships and the poor working conditions caused by the renovations to the English Department offices.
Here’s an example:
You’ve asked me to write a letter seconding the nomination of Franklin Kentrell for Payne’s coveted Davidson chair. 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.”
I think the author must have had a lot of fun writing the letters.
The letters also reveal how difficult it is to for English majors to find work in a related field – Fitger wrote letters to a grocery store and paintball facility for his former students. The devastation of English Departments in favor of funding disciplines like Economics was also a constant theme. And it’s clear that professors spend way too much time writing letters of recommendation.
Although he spent a lot of his energy on snark, by the end we realize that Fitger is actually a pretty decent guy. It takes some skill to develop a character just from the letters he writes and luckily the author was up for the task.
I strongly recommend Dear Committee Members. It’s really funny and, at just 192 pages, a really quick read.
Did you read a book set on a college campus this month? Tell us all about it.
Reminder – November’s challenge is to read a political thriller.