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Brilliant, humble analysis
on July 1, 2003
I've been a fan of IJ since reading it in the summer of '96, but I've never read such a lucid and thoughtful analysis as this book provides. Burns has put enormous effort into analyzing Wallace's writing style, and avoids the simple analysis that Wallace is concsiously trying to undermine. Even though there are many subjects in the book that I would love Burns' opinion on, he is forthcoming about the limitations of the 'readers' guide' format, and has chosen his few topics for detailed analysis with care and skill.
I especially liked his understanding and analysis of IJ's literary context: rather than simplistically comparing Wallace's work to Pynchon or DeLillo, as many have done, he explores the richer tradition of myth materials and 20th-century literature that informs Wallace's brilliant novel.
My only criticism is Burns' failure to comment on Wallace's sense of humor, which was one of the reasons I loved IJ so much, and why I find it worth re-reading from time to time. I've enjoyed other writers endorsed by Wallace, like Irvine Welsh and Dave Eggers, but some literary analysis of Wallace's effective use of different varieties of humor would have been helpful. Still, given the lucid and concise analysis Burns provides, this criticism should be understood as part of my wishlist, not any negative take on Burns' sense of humor.