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3 roads meet, but not much else happens

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  • Krzysztof Majer
    I got my copy of 3 Roads as well and read it in two consecutive evenings. Which is not to say that it was a couldn t-put-it-down read, more that I have
    Message 1 of 17 , Jun 11, 2006
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      I got my copy of 3 Roads as well and read it in two consecutive
      evenings. Which is not to say that it was a couldn't-put-it-down read,
      more that I have precious little time these days for thesis-unrelated
      stuff.

      WARNING: Spoilers follow!

      Ag has written recently about his (mixed, I take it?) feelings:

      > "Tell Me" is quite eh..:(.

      Well, yes. My sentiments exactly.

      > JB's metafictional tricks overshadow the
      > semblance of the 3 characters that I could care about
      >--I still don't
      > know who actually was telling the story (ignorant i may be).

      Seems to me it is Will Chase - speaking of himself in third person -
      who is narrating, with the occasional help of Al Baumann's ghost, who
      takes on almost all (in my opinion annoying) qualities that I've
      learned to expect from the "Muse", or Female Figure, in some of the
      post-Chimera stuff.

      To digress for a while, I remember being absolutely floored with the
      concept of the lover-talk, the Teller & Told, in Chimera, and then
      gradually less and less in the others that followed (Sabbatical,
      Tidewater Tales, Once Upon a Time - if I'm not mistaken? - certainly
      On With the Story and the bits of Nights that I read). OK, so
      Sabbatical puts a spin on it with the first person plural, but I
      remember others confessing during our reading of Tidewater Tales to
      also being irritated by the dialogue's cuteness in that novel.

      I'm rambling; anyhow, Al Baumann does a lot of the Musely stuff, and
      she herself (in yet another guise as Mere Reader, Georgina, Regina,
      etc., yet unmistakable) appears in the second novella.

      JB claimed in Once Upon a Time that he had (with that book, I gather)
      "flushed the Ur-Myth out of the system", but it comes up again - and
      looms large - in all three of the novellas (it's also back to the Y's
      and Why's and Wye's from Sabbatical/Tidewater Tales). So what else is
      new? Not much. Al Baumann is the Helper, done better as Scribner in
      OUAT and infinitely better as Burlingame or Bray in the two biggies I
      treasure. The story, as Ag points out, is once again that of the
      menage a trois that we recall from Opera and End of the Road (possibly
      others that I now can't remember). I found myself ultimately not
      caring much for how the story is resolved, because everything -
      characters, settings, concerns, themes, techniques used and
      commentaries on them - have been done and redone by JB himself, and
      better; also because the story was not that gripping.

      > Story #2 is a bit more fun.

      To me yes & no. I liked the Dramatic Vehicle being an actual (worn-out
      - oh yes! - but still) vehicle or the various characters stopping in
      mid-road, or the Myth of the Wandering Hero being a character. The
      cutesy conversation with the Muse/Reader got on my nerves as usual
      (with all the "thankee"s and curtsies to the Muse's all-but-unbearable
      intelligence), and I guess the story's promises (also quite meager, by
      JB's standards) were spoiled for me from the moment she joined the
      three-wheeled bandwagon (or whatever). The ending, with her climaxing
      (partly because "stories turn her on" and she's enjoying this one so
      much) being the climax of the story is Chimera all over again, sans
      magic and invention. I can't imagine any other reader climaxing.

      > The inclusion of a Marsha Blank almost
      > makes me wonder if this M.B. is the same nemesis of Ambrose Mensch
      > from LETTERS? (probably not...which is a little disappointing).

      If she is, it seems not to matter much.

      > However, I am only up to part 3 where things look a little weird.

      For me, the 3rd part is the most rewarding and entertaining, if also
      the most straightforward (not that it doesn't feature the
      stock-in-trade tricks). It is perhaps a pity that all three of JB's
      female narrators here are more or less sex-obsessed avatars of the
      dreaded Muse, and just barely distinguishable from one another except
      by the font or quotation marks, but at least they don't do the cute
      shtick with the Teller. And then JB once told us - in the voice of one
      of Giles Goat Boy's narrators all those years ago - that all
      characters talk like the author, or more or less like that, disarming
      all criticism on the matter. Anyhow, the ramblings of the three
      elderly Graces are for me the high point of the book. Still, it
      doesn't take us anywhere we haven't been or in a way we haven't seen.

      Although ol' Sherry gets only one mention, I continue to be baffled by
      JB's insistence on summing up all of his career (themes, obsessions,
      etc) in every book almost as if the previous 16 never happened. And I
      tried to imagine, groaning to myself as yet another painfully familiar
      feature loomed into view, that I would enjoy it so much more without
      having read the others. Trying to imagine that this is the first Barth
      book that I pick up and how new, how refreshing, how exhilerating it
      might be.

      But it's not my first, and too damn far from my first! And it seems to
      me that it's one of his weakest. Oh well, maybe I'm just being too
      harsh on it... Anyone else read it & liked/disliked it?

      K
    • Mark Brawner
      ... You lost me a bit, here. With which book, in your view, did he start doing this? ... Some say that Barth s been doing the same old damn thing since, say,
      Message 2 of 17 , Jun 13, 2006
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        > Although ol' Sherry gets only one mention, I continue to be baffled by
        > JB's insistence on summing up all of his career (themes, obsessions,
        > etc) in every book almost as if the previous 16 never happened.

        You lost me a bit, here. With which book, in your view, did he start
        doing this?

        > And it seems to
        > me that it's one of his weakest. Oh well, maybe I'm just being too
        > harsh on it... Anyone else read it & liked/disliked it?

        Some say that Barth's been doing the same old damn thing since, say,
        _Sabbatical_. I'm not one of them, but it does seem to me that the
        last two (and maybe even including _Coming Soon!!!_) have been overly
        self-derivative. And this is especially problematic for fanatics like
        us when, as you're reading, your mentally ticking off where he's said
        that before, and so on. But there are enough delights in each of them
        to keep me enthusiasic over all.
      • Krzysztof Majer
        ... I wasn t being very clear back there, I realize; of course I didn t mean he s always done it and that there have always been previous 16 books. :) But
        Message 3 of 17 , Jun 15, 2006
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          > You lost me a bit, here. With which book, in your view, did he start
          > doing this?

          I wasn't being very clear back there, I realize; of course I didn't
          mean he's always done it and that there have always been previous 16
          books. :) But since I prefer Sot-Weed, Giles and LETTERS to anything
          done afterwards (with the possible exception of Somebody the Sailor),
          I'd guess it probably starts with Tidewater Tales (Sabbatical being a
          very innovative novel in his catalogue indeed, although not one I like
          that much). Of course, LETTERS is itself a gigantic rehash, but it
          makes sense, being the first one and doing it very conspicuously.

          What I object to (aside from the Muse, my abhorring which perhaps
          can't be explained logically) is the repetition of statements, ideas,
          situations as if the reader was always a newcomer and had never heard
          Barth's views on storytelling, myth, etc. Barth is the only writer I
          know who is somehow snail-like, always carrying his house with him
          (excuse the ridiculous image, but it just struck me as accurate...).
          This interests me somehow that at least Once Upon a Time, Coming Soon,
          Nights and especially 3 Roads are attempts at self-summarizing. Didn't
          he tell Dave Edelman that he's always writing the Latest Last Book, or
          something of the sort?

          > I'm not one of them, but it does seem to me that the
          > last two (and maybe even including _Coming Soon!!!_) have been
          > overly self-derivative.

          CS!!! with its redoing of Opera, itself redone in Once Upon a Time
          already (and earlier in LETTERS). I still enjoyed CS!!! much more than
          I did 3 Roads.

          > And this is especially problematic for fanatics like
          > us when, as you're reading, your mentally ticking off where he's said
          > that before, and so on.

          Exactly! And that makes me feel somehow excluded as a reader, because
          I'm either treated as someone ignorant of his previous works and
          statements or just plain stupid if I didn't get them the first few
          times around. Or, from a different angle, it is somehow painful to
          hear him repeat himself so, a bit like being embarrassed for a dear
          friend who is innocently telling an anecdote everyone already knows
          (as told by him), people nodding politely and your cheeks burning.
          Because you care... It's almost exactly that. So when I trash the book
          it's because I care for some of his writing so much. I have that with
          the bands I cherish, too; I prefer their not doing anything to
          recording bad, repetitive stuff.

          > But there are enough delights in each of them
          > to keep me enthusiasic over all.

          Fewer and fewer, I think. 3 Roads was the first that actually had me
          groaning and sighing right out, while doing the "mental ticking off".
          Granted, the 3rd novella was enjoyable, as I said, but in the first
          two I was mostly annoyed, embarrassed, whatever. Possibly it's just me.

          K
        • agrimorfee
          ... to ... Having finished story #3, it was certainly the most interesting of the 3 novellas, but the copout of an ending really turned me off. I think Our Man
          Message 4 of 17 , Jun 19, 2006
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            --- In johnbarth@yahoogroups.com, "Krzysztof Majer" <kmajer@...> wrote:
            >
            > But it's not my first, and too damn far from my first! And it seems
            to
            > me that it's one of his weakest. Oh well, maybe I'm just being too
            > harsh on it... Anyone else read it & liked/disliked it?
            >
            > K


            Having finished story #3, it was certainly the most interesting of the
            3 novellas, but the copout of an ending really turned me off. I think
            Our Man is just getting a little lazy in his golden years. But, I
            would rather read 3 Roads again than try to slog through the promising-
            beginning-but-later-disappointment of Coming Soon! (i gave my full
            priced copy away, I was so disenchanted)

            I finally got a nice copy of Lost In the Funhouse at a used store for
            like 75 cents. This time, I will try to read the more difficult tales
            (Anonymiad, a prime example) without giving up!
          • Mark Brawner
            ... Cakewalk compared to the Menelelaiad! :)
            Message 5 of 17 , Jun 19, 2006
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              On 6/19/06, agrimorfee <agrimorfee@...> wrote:
              > I finally got a nice copy of Lost In the Funhouse at a used store for
              > like 75 cents. This time, I will try to read the more difficult tales
              > (Anonymiad, a prime example) without giving up!

              Cakewalk compared to the Menelelaiad! :)
            • M. Sedaghat Payam
              Yeah I believe too that the most diffocult story of that book is Menelaid. I had really a great time finishing it and keeping track of everything. Good Luck
              Message 6 of 17 , Jun 19, 2006
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                Yeah I believe too that the most diffocult story of that book is Menelaid. I had really a great time finishing it and keeping track of everything.
                Good Luck Arigmorfee with that book.

                MEhdy

                Mark Brawner <mark.brawner@...> wrote:
                On 6/19/06, agrimorfee <agrimorfee@hotmail. com> wrote:
                > I finally got a nice copy of Lost In the Funhouse at a used store for
                > like 75 cents. This time, I will try to read the more difficult tales
                > (Anonymiad, a prime example) without giving up!

                Cakewalk compared to the Menelelaiad! :)


                Talk is cheap. Use Yahoo! Messenger to make PC-to-Phone calls. Great rates starting at 1ยข/min.

              • Krzysztof Majer
                ... As I said already ( As I was saying ..?), that was the only one that I was genuinely interested in. However, I still think JB has a rather specific, shall
                Message 7 of 17 , Jun 21, 2006
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                  Ag sez:
                  > Having finished story #3, it was certainly the most interesting of the
                  > 3 novellas, but the copout of an ending really turned me off.

                  As I said already ("As I was saying"..?), that was the only one that I
                  was genuinely interested in. However, I still think JB has a rather
                  specific, shall we say, view of femininity, i.e. the women tend to be
                  'serviceable' and musely (which, as we know, may be just two sides of
                  the same coin in this case). Even those who desperately try to evade
                  that role, as Germaine Amherst in LETTERS crying out "I am *not* the
                  Great Tradition!" and "I am *not* the ageing Muse of the British
                  Novel!", but get more or less cornered into it by writerly types such
                  as Ambrose.

                  This is perhaps still preferable to what happens in the early novels
                  such as "The End of the Road", where Rennie is virtually reduced to
                  the role of a counter in a game between two ghastly males. Although I
                  agree with Glenn that the new workout of the same or similar situation
                  in 3 Roads is (slightly, in my opinion) more mature, the woman being
                  more independent, I think she is still working within the limits set
                  by the 'intelligent, experienced male' type (Joe Morgan there, Al
                  Baumann here).

                  Not to mention, finally, the obsessive repetition of rape scenes in a
                  score of JB's works (concerning which, if my memory serves me, he says
                  somewhere in Further Fridays that he'd rather not go into it? one of
                  the essays about Tidewater Tales?).

                  Not to get all feminist-criticism-y on you all here, but... I think I
                  remember someone speaking out on the issue of JB's female characters
                  way back. How about re-opening the discussion? Maybe the ladies here
                  would like to say something about it? Barbara?

                  K
                • Mark Brawner
                  ... That was J. Martin objecting to one of Barth s statements in an interview in Morrell s _JB: An Introduction_. I think it had to do with with love
                  Message 8 of 17 , Jun 21, 2006
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                    On 6/21/06, Krzysztof Majer <kmajer@...> wrote:

                    >I think I
                    > remember someone speaking out on the issue of JB's female characters
                    > way back. How about re-opening the discussion? Maybe the ladies here
                    > would like to say something about it? Barbara?

                    That was J. Martin objecting to one of Barth's statements in an
                    interview in Morrell's _JB: An Introduction_. I think it had to do
                    with with love triangles, the collision of philosophical positions,
                    and the embematic significance of 'male' and 'female' regarding both.
                    Or something. She thought it was much too smug and tidy.
                  • Mark Brawner
                    Definding Three Roads: http://noggs.typepad.com/the_reading_experience/2006/02/in_his_review_o.html
                    Message 9 of 17 , Jun 21, 2006
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                    • Barbara Schmidt
                      how can I resist? Very difficult; it s been one of the central questions of my life- for over 40 years: how can I possibly so treasure the writings of this
                      Message 10 of 17 , Jun 21, 2006
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                        how can I resist?
                         
                        Very difficult; it's been one of the central questions of my life- for over 40 years: how can I possibly so treasure the writings of this man, who just knows that he is way more important than his true love-or other woman/women, without which less, but not nothing.
                         
                        Rant:
                        He doesn't want more kids so of course Shelley will just go off and quietly abort her twins after faking some number of menstrual cycles.  Really?  I don't think that no one will ever do anything other than what they've always done.  (But it's fine, with me, if he still believes that the key to the treasure is the treasure!)
                         
                        I enjoy the reiteration of the familiar stories, and I don't expect any big changes, and I still love Sherry and Duny and can read new footnotes to their stories, still, more.  The gimmicks are cute, if not very important.   Wonder if we could deal with a JB who tried to write 'Guns, Germs and Steel' rather than what we expect.  The muse may be tired, and so is her beneficiary, and they may as well a-muse themselves as best they can. (And it's way more worth the time to read than lots of other books.)
                         
                        Not clear that the roles of women have been any more clearly defined -for all the fuss over the last many years.  Seems like the gay community has had its perception changed, but women in the US haven't much redefined themselves.  Radical feminism probably negatively affected the possibility of women in power- several other countries have actually elected female leaders, which still seems wildly unlikely here.  Yet the social/political sense that women just don't do war isn't possible to ignore.... and I don't think JB is ready to give his woman the leading role; and maybe his woman is ready to assume it.
                         
                         

                         
                        On 6/21/06, Mark Brawner <mark.brawner@...> wrote:

                        On 6/21/06, Krzysztof Majer <kmajer@...> wrote:

                        >I think I
                        > remember someone speaking out on the issue of JB's female characters
                        > way back. How about re-opening the discussion? Maybe the ladies here
                        > would like to say something about it? Barbara?

                        That was J. Martin objecting to one of Barth's statements in an
                        interview in Morrell's _JB: An Introduction_. I think it had to do
                        with with love triangles, the collision of philosophical positions,
                        and the embematic significance of 'male' and 'female' regarding both.
                        Or something. She thought it was much too smug and tidy.


                      • Krzysztof Majer
                        ... woman/women, ... I didn t dare put it so strongly, but it seemed that way to me, too. However, after posting the last one I thought about Susie Turner and
                        Message 11 of 17 , Jun 23, 2006
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                          Barbara asks:
                          > how can I possibly so treasure the writings of this man, who just
                          > knows that he is way more important than his true love-or other
                          woman/women,
                          > without which less, but not nothing.

                          I didn't dare put it so strongly, but it seemed that way to me, too.
                          However, after posting the last one I thought about Susie Turner and
                          Kathy Sagamore who might not exactly fit the hasty pattern I tried to
                          outline back there, about being musely (sounds awfully like muesli
                          now) and serviceable. But it is usually he the writer and she the
                          professor or somesuch, right? She might be inconceivably clever and
                          observant (most often is, too), but she remains the critic, the
                          reader, the inspiration - anything but the actual doer. Correct me if
                          I'm wrong here, I'm just musing "aloud", quite possibly neglecting
                          facts. Far as yet from a 'considered opinion'.

                          Because, of course, there's Sherry... Yup, Sherry's the spike in the
                          wheel of my theory. Now how do I get rid of Sherry? :) "If the facts
                          don't fit,..."

                          > Wonder if we could deal with a JB who tried to write 'Guns, Germs
                          > and Steel' rather than what we expect.

                          Well, who knows, might be interesting! :) But then old age is of
                          course seldom the time to explore new paths, but rather to wrap up the
                          past more or less neatly... I realize that.

                          > The muse may be tired, and so is her beneficiary, and they may
                          > as well a-muse themselves as best they can. (And it's way more
                          > worth the time to read than lots of other books.)

                          You are a true fan! :) I try to be, as well, but with 3 Roads I sadly
                          had the opposite impression, namely that my time could have been more
                          interestingly, productively, whatever, employed elsewhere, reading
                          other things. Which is a particularly painful, troubling sensation
                          when it comes to one of your favorite writers and which is why I've
                          voiced my discontent so much here ... (must try to restrain myself
                          with all those complaints re the Latest Last Book).

                          K
                        • Mark Brawner
                          ... Bwah?
                          Message 12 of 17 , Jun 23, 2006
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                            Barbara wrote:
                             
                            Rant:
                            He doesn't want more kids so of course Shelley will just go off and quietly abort her twins after faking some number of menstrual cycles. 
                             
                            Bwah?
                             

                             
                          • Barbara Schmidt
                            JB had not much trouble managing Sherry; he wrote that time travel provided him with the ability to tell her the stories she was to tell. No doubt he loved KSS
                            Message 13 of 17 , Jun 24, 2006
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                              JB had not much trouble managing Sherry; he wrote that time travel provided him with the ability to tell her the stories she was to tell. 
                               
                              No doubt he loved KSS as best he could.  T

                               
                              On 6/23/06, Krzysztof Majer <kmajer@...> wrote:

                              Barbara asks:
                              > how can I possibly so treasure the writings of this man, who just
                              > knows that he is way more important than his true love-or other
                              woman/women,
                              > without which less, but not nothing.

                              I didn't dare put it so strongly, but it seemed that way to me, too.
                              However, after posting the last one I thought about Susie Turner and
                              Kathy Sagamore who might not exactly fit the hasty pattern I tried to
                              outline back there, about being musely (sounds awfully like muesli
                              now) and serviceable. But it is usually he the writer and she the
                              professor or somesuch, right? She might be inconceivably clever and
                              observant (most often is, too), but she remains the critic, the
                              reader, the inspiration - anything but the actual doer. Correct me if
                              I'm wrong here, I'm just musing "aloud", quite possibly neglecting
                              facts. Far as yet from a 'considered opinion'.

                              Because, of course, there's Sherry... Yup, Sherry's the spike in the
                              wheel of my theory. Now how do I get rid of Sherry? :) "If the facts
                              don't fit,..."

                              > Wonder if we could deal with a JB who tried to write 'Guns, Germs
                              > and Steel' rather than what we expect.

                              Well, who knows, might be interesting! :) But then old age is of
                              course seldom the time to explore new paths, but rather to wrap up the
                              past more or less neatly... I realize that.

                              > The muse may be tired, and so is her beneficiary, and they may
                              > as well a-muse themselves as best they can. (And it's way more
                              > worth the time to read than lots of other books.)

                              You are a true fan! :) I try to be, as well, but with 3 Roads I sadly
                              had the opposite impression, namely that my time could have been more
                              interestingly, productively, whatever, employed elsewhere, reading
                              other things. Which is a particularly painful, troubling sensation
                              when it comes to one of your favorite writers and which is why I've
                              voiced my discontent so much here ... (must try to restrain myself
                              with all those complaints re the Latest Last Book).

                              K


                            • Krzysztof Majer
                              ... provided ... Well, yes and no, I guess, because through its paradoxical nature the past and the present (or future) replenish each other; this seemed to me
                              Message 14 of 17 , Jun 25, 2006
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                                Barbara writes:
                                > JB had not much trouble managing Sherry; he wrote that time travel
                                provided
                                > him with the ability to tell her the stories she was to tell.

                                Well, yes and no, I guess, because through its paradoxical nature the
                                past and the present (or future) replenish each other; this seemed to
                                me like the most generous treatment of the female, because they are
                                both creative and inspiring to one another. It's favors for favors,
                                right? They seem to come out equal. But this is more like the
                                exception than the rule in JB, seems to me.

                                > No doubt he loved KSS as best he could.

                                You mean Peter Sagamore? I'm also not exactly sure about the Shelly
                                and twin abortion bit that Mark singled out. Surely we wouldn't take
                                his work to be this autobiographical? We all know how he balks at that.

                                K
                              • agrimorfee
                                ... that. ... If he didn t make so many of these novels variations on a theme about a boat-going-aging writer and his lovely younger wife/paramour, I wouldn t
                                Message 15 of 17 , Jun 26, 2006
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                                  --- In johnbarth@yahoogroups.com, "Krzysztof Majer" <kmajer@...> wrote:
                                  > You mean Peter Sagamore? I'm also not exactly sure about the Shelly
                                  > and twin abortion bit that Mark singled out. Surely we wouldn't take
                                  > his work to be this autobiographical? We all know how he balks at
                                  that.
                                  >
                                  > K

                                  If he didn't make so many of these novels variations on a theme about
                                  a boat-going-aging writer and his lovely younger wife/paramour, I
                                  wouldn't be so inclined to think that. ^-^
                                • Barbara
                                  I think there s a large autobiographical contribution to the stories, especially around family and sailing. If he didn t get a professor s wife pregnant, his
                                  Message 16 of 17 , Jun 26, 2006
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                                    I think there's a large autobiographical contribution to the stories,
                                    especially around family and sailing. If he didn't get a professor's
                                    wife pregnant, his first early marriage was probably something less
                                    than 9 months before the birth of his first child. Sabbatical's Susan
                                    Seckler had an abortion, no? She might not be exactly JB's second
                                    wife, but pretty darn close, I bet. So perhaps not autobiography, but
                                    life influence then.

                                    (I don't think David Foster Wallace could have written the druggy
                                    stuff without having lived it; I don't think anyone can write about
                                    hoisting a sail or setting an anchor without having done it- or at
                                    least it's clear that it's an uneducated narrator. Hmm wonder if Jim
                                    Dodge disappeared or had interesting ducks...)
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