Dear Committee Members,
Over the past twenty-odd years I’ve recommended got only knows how many talented candidates for the Bentham January residency-that enviable literary oasis in the woods south of Skowhegan: the solitude, the pristine cabins, the artistic camaraderie, and those exquisite hand-delivered satchels of apples and cheese… Well, you can scratch all prior nominees and pretenders from your mailing lists, because none is as provocative or as promising as Darren Browles.
Published by The Friday Project, an imprint of Harper Collins in February 2015
Pages – 180
Cover Design by We Are Laura
I’m always on the lookout for an epistolary novel, so I was excited to discover this one, which recently became a New York Times bestseller.
Set in a cash strapped, arts college in America’s Midwest, the reader finds themselves at the writing desk of Jason Fitger, a professor of creative writing. In his younger years, Jason stood on the verge of a promising literary career, happily married and highly thought of by his peers. Now his glittering future lies shattered at his feet and yet, surprisingly, there is still a smidgeon of pompousness about him.
Through his love of the written word, he demonstrates how miserable and sarcastic he has become, as he writes letter after letter of recommendation for former students and colleagues, some of whom he barely knew. His marriage and following liaisons now a distant memory, after he decided to include his private affairs in his books. As his wife and former mistress gang up on him, he attempts to make amends, by asking for their help in employing his former students. You can’t help but laugh at the irony of his situation as everyone he recommends surpasses him in life, while he trundles on in what he considers a second rate career.
It isn’t surprising when former colleagues and students complain about his recommendations, as each letter is brimming with bitterness. Yet with each letter, you get a real feel for his state of mind and present situation.
This is a really short novel but extremely hilarious. To an aspiring writer, it highlights how fickle and subjective the publishing industry can be. It also shows that a writer is only as good as their last book. A satirical look at one man’s downward spiral into a midlife crisis through the dying art of letter writing, from within the walls of a crumbling English department.