This delightful little book will have you chuckling under your breath on almost every page and even laughing out loud sometimes. It is about a sarcastic, curmudgeon who goes about his life finding intriguing ways to complain! In his fifties, one might think he is having a mid-life crisis, but Jason T. Fitger, a professor of Creative Writing and English at Payne University, has been lamenting everything in life for a long time. We learn through his correspondence (there is no other narrative in the book), that from his office space to his relationships with others he is disheartened. He spends much of his time writing LOR’s, (Letters of Reference), for individuals he believes are barely competent or for highly qualified candidates, for jobs that are beneath them but are necessary for financial reasons and/or their future prospects. Even when he admires the applicant, his tongue in cheek references to their shortcomings may have the reader rolling their eyes or even rolling on the floor laughing in disbelief. A letter of reference that points out the contenders limitations can’t truly be called a letter of reference!
In this book, we are privy to all of the letters, emails and snail mail (his preference), he writes. They represent a year of the professor’s correspondence from 2009-2010, and they intensely expose Fitger’s life. He is a man who has not achieved the success he envisioned for himself, a man who watches his ex-wife and many of his students and competitors advance beyond him. Almost friendless, divorced from a wife he still loves, working for a department he believes is getting short shrift, as he is, with his office right next door to the toilet, a facility not always as fresh smelling as it should be, housed in an office in a building that is a disastrous construction zone, as opposed to the Economics office that was moved to safer and less environmentally hazard a location, he expresses his disgust and disappointment with his life and the world, through his rather funny, cynical missives, under the guise of offering his somewhat resentful help to his supplicants.
Even when he attempts to write a positive letter, it comes out, a bit mischievously, in the opposite way, as he uses these communiqués to voice his own opinions, rather than sticking to his mission of writing the letter of recommendation. He makes enemies, not friends, of those he solicits with his left-handed compliments. Occasionally, to further his own image and boost his own ego, he reveals things he shouldn’t, private things, to those in a position to make the decision to hire or not to hire the candidate. Also, he makes demands of the person in receipt of his letter, like demanding that if the young person gets the job in the food establishment, which he sorely needs, he is to be forbidden from eating the food they prepare in order to protect his health. He does occasionally advocate for one or another very admirably, but perhaps, to retaliate against him for his often inadvertent but hurtful comments and behavior, which he would claim were well-intentioned, they decline to help. When misfortune falls upon one of those grad students he had spent time trying to aid and abet, others around him sense a change in him as he sometimes expresses remorse or regret for his past decisions and conduct. They also sense a change in themselves. Some suddenly become supportive, as do staff members and his former wife. From this little novel and Professor Fitger’s facetious comments, we are taught about tolerance and compassion in the oddest of ways! We are also forced to confront the difference between the old and the young in the way they tackle issues and confront challenges they must face.
This Professor, who could benefit well from a Dale-Carnegie course, uses cryptic expressions to close his letters, as in one case where he ends with the valediction, “Hazardous Materials Expert”. He complains about adjunct professors wanting to air their grudges while tenured professors get far less benefits. He believes his department and the more experienced staff members that remain, are being unfairly treated and considers the idea that they are trying to kill them off with the dust from the construction site, instead of waiting for them to retire.
I think the experience of reading this book in a print edition would be better than the audio I listened to, although it was read very well, because the extraneous addresses could simply be skimmed over. It would be great for a beach read or an airplane flight or a boat trip. It is light, whimsical, and yet it is poignant too.
I hadn’t intended to listen to it straight through, but the humor, sarcasm and pathos were so engaging, I found it hard to stop until 3+ hours later, when it ended!