Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumaker
April 10th, 2015
Dear Committee Members is an epistolary novel-satire that presents the slow and droll nervous breakdown of English professor, revealed through a series of eloquent letters of recommendations for a vast array of mediocrely undeserving students.
Professor Jason Fitger's field has been deemed irrelevant and expendable by the college, and the world around him seems to cruelly agree with that assessment: Jay's students are largely uninspiring, and his own creative output has been reduced to the monotonous act of recommending these students onward to entry-level food service positions, or for the promising ones, to med school (anything but English…).
In some ways, this book is brilliant. Julie Schumacher is impressively devoted to a true epistolary form: the letters sound like letters, with no dialogue, no reminders of who characters are, no gimmicks to artificially move along a plot. It's a difficult feat and impressive accomplishment to create a coherent novel from letters that sound like actual letters.
But ughhhhhh it was so boorinngggggg! Jay Fitger's LORs are reminding him how monotonous and meaningless his life is. And so reading these letters… kind of monotonous. Took me many a subway ride to trudge through this quite slim novelette. And while I admire Schumacher's diligence to form, a collection of letters is kind of a slog to read. The lack of dialogue slowwwwws everything down, and you have to keep track of the characters purely by name. This is not a great Kindle book, as you'll need to go back and forth between the pages like "wait, is Tara Tappini a new character or was she mentioned before?" The volume of boring repetitive letters is the point, but at the same time, every similar wittily damning LOR after the first few is just filler to flesh out a novel. Well-written, intentional filler, but filler.
NPR hails Dear Committee Members "a hilarious academic novel that'll send you laughing (albeit ruefully) back into the trenches of the classroom." I could believe this book is hilarious to a certain academic audience, but I'm very much not that audience. Yes, English departments in no-name universities are treated like 5th class citizens to more "practical" majors. Unlike Schumacher, I don't really find that to be a shame. It's not that I don't get the jokes; I just don't find them very funny.