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'Dear Committee Members': Novel composed of letters a happy surprise

Dear Esteemed Readers:

I write today with the happy task of commending to your attention “Dear Committee Members” (Doubleday, 180 pages, $22.95), the new novel by Julie Schumacher.

In the interest of impressing upon you what a happy surprise Ms. Schumacher’s novel is, I must first admit that in general I am not inclined to favor the epistolary novel — that is, the novel comprised entirely of letters. But Ms. Schumacher has solved many of the technical difficulties of such a book — most notably, how to convince the reader that the protagonist, in the present day, would write large numbers of letters — and the story these letters tell is both funny and poignant.

Reading this missive of mine, you may well wonder at this point what the book is about. It might be more useful to ask who the book is about.

The answer: Jay Fitger, a professor of creative writing and English at Payne (and yes, the name is employed for comic effect) University. Staggering under the weight of student requests for letters of recommendation and various bureaucratic imperatives, Fitger cannot restrain his biting commentary regarding the state of education, the ridiculousness of online forms, and the prospects of his students regardless of their level of promise.

Lest you conclude I am merely impressed by a humorous, well-handled gimmick, let me assure you that Ms. Schumacher brilliantly lays bare the tale of Fitger’s stalled career, failed love life, and quixotic championing of a student and his unfinished novel. “Dear Committee Members” ends with a blend of sadness and quiet hope that I did not anticipate, but found wholly satisfying.

In short, I recommend “Dear Committee Members” without hesitation or caveat.

Wishing you good reading,

Rob Cline, book reviewer

Reading

What: Jule Schumacher

When: 7 p.m. Aug. 27

Where: Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City

Cost: Free

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