Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A well-deserved honor / literary recommendation

A writer named Julie Schumacher has just won the 2015 Thurber Prize for American Humor by reason of her recent novel, Dear Committee Members. Among the better-known past winners are David Sedaris, Jon Stewart, the writers at the Onion, and Christopher Buckley.

I mention this because I've read Dear Committee Members and found it hilariously funny (the cliche "laugh-out-loud funny" was literally true).

The basic premise sounds like a stunt. It's not just an epistolary novel, but one consisting solely of letters of recommendation (for jobs, academic promotion, grants, etc.) penned by a creative writing professor who is cracking up. Try writing something like that, if you want a technical challenge. Yet Schumacher (apparently effortlessly) pulls it off, keeping the plot moving forward and drawing you in - aided, of course, by the fact that the lead character invariably writes wildly inappropriate letters that are quite unlikely to accomplish their apparent objectives.

Per the description at Schumacher's website:

Jason Fitger is a beleaguered professor of creative writing and literature at Payne University, a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the midwest. His department is facing draconian cuts and squalid quarters, while one floor above them the Economics Department is getting lavishly remodeled offices. His once-promising writing career is in the doldrums, as is his romantic life, in part as the result of his unwise use of his private affairs for his novels. His star (he thinks) student can’t catch a break with his brilliant (he thinks) work Accountant in a Bordello, based on Melville’s Bartleby. In short, his life is a tale of woe, and the vehicle this droll and inventive novel uses to tell that tale is a series of hilarious letters of recommendation that Fitger is endlessly called upon by his students and colleagues to produce, each one of which is a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive-aggressive strategies.

This is certainly accurate, but scarcely does justice to how delightful it is.  As someone else once said about a novel, it was "funny and fast-paced, a great summer quick read. I devoured it on a plane to [in my case, Santa Fe]."

1 comment:

Michael Livingston said...

I've heard good things about this book.