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Book Review

‘Dear Committee Members’

9/24/2014

Courtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Shirley Shiffler

Doubleday Books

Aug. 19, 2014

$22.95

HIV

180 Pages

bookJason Fitger is a disenchanted professor of creative writing and literature at a small, mediocre liberal arts college in the Midwest, and “Dear Committee Members” is the hilarious look at one year of his life, told in the form of the letters he has written over that time period.

The story opens early in September, at the beginning of a new school year in the English Department at undistinguished Payne University. Jason was once a promising novelist, but through the years has witnessed the decline of interest in the liberal arts, particularly English, in favor of the increase in numbers of students opting for a degree in more lucrative majors such as international finance and computer science. He has understandably become something of a curmudgeon, which comes through in the letters of recommendation he is asked to write.

Not content to stick with a basic formula for these epistles, he is quite candidly frank and often a little abrasive and passive aggressive, when telling the truth about each individual he is recommending. The subjects of these letters vary from students and colleagues, and are written to anyone ranging from ex-lovers, other departments within Payne, and a variety of graduate schools and potential employers. Some of the funniest are those where he is required to submit an online communication and cannot keep his comments short enough to fit in the allotted space.

I could clearly picture our professor sitting in the basement of a building in the midst of reconstruction, his office next to a barely functioning restroom, writing letters to recommend his English students for jobs in the child-care, data entry and service industries, as the year goes by and ultimately wraps up in bittersweet moments. CV

Shirley Shiffler grew up in Urbandale, graduated from Drake University (twice!), and lives in the Beaverdale neighborhood

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