Yet, it is not only the tragic loss of a young life that makes this a compelling read. Award-winning, foreign correspondant Richard Lloyd Parry navigates us through Japanese society with an adroit hand, and we examine the culture through the eyes of the Eastern and the Western world.
Even more fascinating is the picture Parry paints of every person involved in Lucie's life and death. Lucie's family: her mother, father, sister and brother are all present and plugged into this story. Lucie's friends and acquaintances provide insight into her character and actions. Parry contributes painstaking detail about Japan's legal system and the people who represent it. Probably the most unsettling element of this tale is the intimate portrait of Joji Obara, the accused killer of Lucie Blackman. Parry guides us from his birth in Japan to his lengthy trial for the rape and murder of multiple young women. The key to this riveting book is the incredible detail Parry provides, and the depth of emotional intensity he packs into this sad story. Spellbinding indeed.
An incongruous image of a porcupine on the cover of Dear Committee Members humorously hints at the prickly nature of the main character before the book is even opened.
The story unfolds through correspondence penned entirely by one person, Jason T. Fitger, a Professor of Creative Writing and English at fictional Payne University. His beloved English Department is being squeezed both financially and by a construction project which puts him at odds with another more favored department in the same building. A great deal of Fitger’s time is mired in bureaucratic paperwork, politics, and writing endless letters of recommendations for students. Some are written with such biting honesty that certain requesters will regret asking him to write anything at all, especially when it is required to be done online.
Each letter is tailored to the recipient with varying degrees of Fitger’s unbridled and unfiltered manner of speaking. The level of praise, ire, disdain, explanation or pleading is dependent on how much he cares about that particular topic. His professional and personal lives are intertwined and, oblivious to decorum, he often reveals too much to the wrong people through what he writes.
Fitger is a bit prone to gossip, perhaps a little naïve, selfish yet likeable, articulate yet socially dense, and passionate. I found the way in which author Julie Schumacher presented these elements of his personality very entertaining. I think the book is a tribute to epistolary and imaginative writing.
And, yes, I had to read the story with a dictionary close at hand.