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"The English Experience"| Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider

It’s been a while since I read a book that made me laugh out loud, but that’s what happened as I walked the Brit walk with Jason Fitger, the 63-year old head of the English Department at fictional Payne University. The rather staid professor wasn’t ready for the assignment he was taxed with in “The English Experience,” a refreshing, smartly written novel by Julie Schumacher.

Fitger imagines the worst when the new, youngish provost at the university calls him into her office. Perhaps the ax is about to fall on his career at Payne, he thinks. In actuality, the opposite occurs—rather than relinquishing responsibilities Fitger will take on more—11 more to be exact. That’s the number of college students he will oversee and teach on a 3-week interdisciplinary tour of England.

The last place Fitger would have ever wanted to go was England, in January. He’d been there with his wife more than 12 years ago, a wife he’s now divorced from. “They nearly killed each other in Lower Slaughter, a town in the Cotswolds.”

These days, he and Janet Matthias are cordial, see one another frequently because they share custody of Rogaine, “A mutt of uncertain lineage, …a threadbare, unappealing creature.” Being away will require Janet care for the dog, a favor she agrees to, but not without giving Fitger some grief.

Dog sitting secured, readers meet the students Figer will shepard on the tour by reading excerpts from the essays they write to be accepted into the program—what a unique, individualistic lot they are. Any professor would turn tail and run.

Among his wards are Felicity, a shy girl overly attached to her gray cat; Sonia, heartbroken because her former boyfriend cheated on her; Brent, the doofus who cheated on Sonia and can’t write a simple sentence; Joe a student with a criminal record; Wyatt, a young man who admits to having depression and thought the group was going to the Cayman Islands and not England; and Xanna, who has ADD and an auto-immune disease.

Just learning the students’ names is a chore for Fitger, who doesn’t get much sleep on the trans-Atlantic flight or on the trip in general, one issue popping up after another in a series of funny, identifiable scenarios as the group visits the usual tourist spots in London and ventures to Stonehenge, Oxford and Bath. Fitger’s main goal on the trip is to get the students gel, a goal that seems unreachable until they arrive in Bath where an unexpected major hiccup causes bedlam and camaraderie.

Though “The English Experience” might appear to be solely fluff and fun at the onset, as the novel progresses some serious undertones develop making this book a sincere pleasure to read, one that proves the goodness to be found in humanity.

Journey along with Fitger—you’ll learn a lot along the way. Cheerio!



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