This is my favorite new book of the year so far. It’s composed of funny, angry letters, mostly letters of recommendation, written by a man who has been around too long and seen too much, but who can’t stop caring about his job and the people it touches. The book jacket promises that each letter is “a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive aggressive strategies”, and the author delivers on that promise.
Jay Fitger is a professor of English at the aptly named Payne University. Jay is 55 years old, divorced twice, the kind of guy who is just too honest and too smart for his own good. He’s also angry as he watches his department become more and more downsized and marginalized as the university budget constricts. His letters of recommendation for students and colleagues who need his help in applying for jobs, grants, etc. often tend to lack the tactfulness one expects in such missives.
Here’s an excerpt from a letter written on behalf of a student seeking an internship in the office of a state senator:
Malinda is intelligent; she is organized; she is well spoken. Given her aptitude for research (unlike most undergraduates, she has moved beyond Wikipedia), I am sure that she will soon learn that the senator, his leathern face permanently embossed with a gruesome rictus of feigned cheer, has consistently voted against funds for higher education and has cosponsored multiple narrow-minded backwater proposals that will make it ever more difficult for her to repay the roughly $38,000 in debt that the average graduate of our institution inherits—along with a lovely blue tassel—on the day of commencement.
Gee, with friends like these…
As the book progresses, the reader learns more about the failures of Jay’s personal life, and about the politics surrounding him at the university. By the time the book ends, both Jay and the reader encounter the sadness that any good comedy includes as well as a surprising satisfaction at how things turn out.