Beleaguered English professor Jason Fitger, the unlucky protagonist of the Thurber Prize–winning novel Dear Committee Members (2014), returns to Payne University to fight another day.
Schumacher (English/The Univ. of Minnesota; An Explanation for Chaos, 1997, etc.) abandons the epistolary style of her previous novel for a straight narrative but retains all of its acid satire in a sequel that is far more substantive and just as funny. Our malcontent professor Fitger has been promoted to chair of his deeply dysfunctional English department. But his dwindling domain is in the crosshairs of villainous economics chair Roland Gladwell, who is trying to push English out of the basement of his precious Willard Hall and—if a troubling new quality assurance program comes to fruition—out of the curriculum entirely. Fitger’s only allies in his turf war are his ex-wife, Janet Matthias, who is now sleeping with the school’s dowdy dean, Philip Hinckler, and Fran Ignatieff, his gladiatorial administrative assistant, who generally hates him. From here, Schumacher throws her accident-prone lead into an unceasing comedy of errors. Fitger’s arc includes defending his Literature of the Apocalypse class from accusations that it's “psychologically hostile,” an absurd series of quests to convince (read: bribe) his colleagues to sign off on a required “Statement of Vision,” and a simmering alliance with Marie Eland, chair of the Consolidated Languages department, who best understands his plight. “It is about staying alive for the length of your term,” she says. “Because this is a game for them—for the deans and the provost and the vice provosts: to cut us back and back and back and suppose what we will do. What do you name this? A blood sport.” Subplots involving students, among them a naïve freshman, a duplicitous teaching assistant, and an ambitious department intern, are slightly less acerbic, but the Shakespearean drama between departments and colleagues is popcornworthy.
A witty but kindhearted academic satire that oscillates between genuine compassion and scathing mockery with admirable dexterity.