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.