Review: Dear Committee Members

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
reviewed by Andrew H.

A novel full of letters of recommendation? I did not really know what to expect from Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members, but I’m glad I picked it up on a whim. The writer of these letters, Jay Fitger, is a hopeless, self-righteous narcissist whose life is unraveling as he inadvertently ruins the lives of those who ask his help. Julie Schumacher is funny and this novel is cleverly crafted.

I was concerned, at first, about the structure being nothing but letters of recommendation. There’s a format, there’s a way of saying things, they do not differ that much from each other; I once had to write them for an organization that will go unnamed. Luckily Fitger doesn’t even bother with the accepted format of these letters. Schumacher unveils bits of plot throughout each one and, thankfully, Fitger can’t help himself but to fight against the boilerplate expected of him. He continually shoots himself in the foot while shooting his students in more severe metaphorical limbs. You have to hand it to Jay Fitger, though. He writes a letter of recommendation letter to a catering company as passionately as he would write a letter to a grad program. The topics he chooses to be passionate about are far from helpful for the person he is advocating for but he is passionate nonetheless. He spends time talking about his failures and perceived slights. It is hilarious and pathetic.

The real beauty of the story is revealed through a favored student, Browles, who is writing a novel based on Melville’s Bartleby. While Dear Committee Members is funny, it reveals itself as a serious reflection on art and creation; its beauty, its futility, and its inevitability. Schumacher has a unique novel here and it is well worth picking it up. It is funny and enlightening and while a novel composed entirely of letters of recommendation may seem like a gimmick, it is not. It’s varied and we learn much about the characters, even with as strict a point of view as unanswered letters.

 

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