Beattie, Ann (Vol. 146)
Ann Beattie 1947-
American short story writer, novelist, essayist, children's writer, and critic.
The following entry presents an overview of Beattie's career. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 8, 13, 18, 40 and 63.
Beattie's fiction primarily focuses on the post-World War II “baby boom” generation. Her characters are typically passive and unable to comprehend their own lives and that of those around them, trapped in dissatisfactory situations. Beattie employs a prose style composed of flat, declarative sentences and detached observations, paralleling the listlessness of her characters. Her protagonists are typically well-educated people who experience a sense of loss as they attempt to reconcile the idealistic convictions of their youth with their present lifestyles. Refusing to resolve the dilemmas developed in her fiction, Beattie rarely explores the inner motivations of her characters. She focuses instead on their external environment, providing idiosyncratic and telling details, including frequent references to consumer goods and popular songs.
Beattie was an only child, born in Washington, D.C. in 1947. She did not thrive in the District of Columbia public school system, and earned poor grades. Nevertheless, Beattie was accepted to American University, where she studied English. After graduation, Beattie attended graduate school at the University of Connecticut. She published her early stories in the New Yorker magazine at the encouragement of her professor J. D. O'Hara. Her first collection, Distortions, was published in 1976, along with her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter. Beattie served as a visiting writer and lecturer at the University of Virginia from 1975 to 1977, and as the Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in English at Harvard University in 1977. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1978, an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award in 1980, and a distinguished alumna award and an honorary doctorate of humane letters from American University in 1980 and 1983, respectively.
Beattie's early volumes of short fiction focus on characters who lack permanent emotional ties and who experience pervasive, vague despair and confusion regarding the direction of their lives. Distortions features characters who are more affected by the consequences of experimenting with drugs and sexual freedom in the 1960s than by the political upheavals of that era. Secrets and Surprises （1978） depicts similar characters living in the increasingly conservative 1970s. Many of the characters in this collection are involved in relationships that they are afraid to leave, or remain saddened by the memory of a long-lost lover. Where You'll Find Me, and Other Stories （1986） contains pieces in which the past helps illuminate the characters' present dissatisfaction. In this collection, Beattie depicts people at the onset of middle age who have never achieved the success or happiness they seemed destined for in their youth. Attempting to adjust to the death of their daughter, the couple in the story “In the White Night” possess a maturity lacking in most of Beattie's earlier characters. The most celebrated story in this volume, “Janus,” concerns a woman's obsession with a bowl given to her by a former lover. The woman's life is defined by the loss she's experienced; and the beautiful bowl, perpetually empty, becomes a symbol of her own life. What Was Mine （1991） is a collection that focuses on affluent suburbanites struggling with their own mortality and the ravages of divorce. These stories also explore the randomness and unpredictability of life. In the title story, Ethan's war veteran father is killed by a falling bucket of paint and his mother is unable to cope with the unexpected loss.
Beattie's novels utilize similar episodic styles and concentrate on the short, intense moments of unenlightened feeling that were found in her short fiction. Chilly Scenes of Winter relies heavily on conversations between people in their late twenties, whose nostalgia for the 1960s reveals their prolonged adolescence and bewildered approach to adulthood. In Falling in Place （1980）, Beattie focuses on a man's inability to choose between his family and his lover—a dilemma that is unexpectedly resolved when his son accidentally shoots his daughter. Love Always （1985） is a satire of both show business and the publishing industry. The novel centers around Nicole Nelsen, a fourteen-year-old soap opera star who takes a vacation to visit her eccentric aunt in Vermont. Beattie introduces nearly a dozen principal characters and the narrative is told from several viewpoints. Beattie's highly acclaimed novel Picturing Will (1989) is divided into three sections—“Mother,” “Father,” and “Son.” Interspersed throughout the novel, Beattie includes italicized, first-person meditations on the relationship between parent and child. The novel follows Will, whose natural father abandoned him. His mother is an ambitious photographer and her second marriage provides Will with his only true parental figure. Another You （1995） is more realistic and less minimalistic than Beattie's previous novels. The protagonist Marshall Lockard is an English professor in New Hampshire who develops a relationship with a student. His life is further complicated by his dying stepmother, his troubled family past, and his wife, who is also having an affair. My Life, Starring Dara Falcon （1997） covers events in a friendship between two women: Jean, a naive New Hampshire housewife, and Dara, a flamboyant stranger who befriends Jean. The novel explores issues of trust and narcissism in relationships. In 1998, Beattie published a volume of short fiction titled Park City: New and Selected Stories. The stories in the collection primarily focus on vignettes from the lives of a variety of neurotic middle-class characters.
Known for the simplicity of her prose, Beattie is often referred to as a minimalist, a label which she rejects. Several reviewers have hailed Beattie as a spokesperson for her generation, but at the same time, assert that she does not idealize her subject matter. Steven R. Centola stated that Beattie “holds a harsh mirror up to her troubled society and reveals with disconcerting clarity its imperfections.” The stark quality of Beattie's prose, coupled with an absence of commentary upon her characters' actions or their inability to act is considered unsettling by many reviewers. Patricia Storace stated, “Some of Beattie's characters and settings have at best the life of images; there can be something oddly interchangeable about them, as if they were not quite important to their own stories, and could be shifted to other stories with the right cosmetic changes.” Reviewers have noted that as Beattie's writing matured, she moved away from her minimalist beginnings to a more realistic style. Some critics have complained that when Beattie's fiction became increasingly realistic, her sparse characterizations remained too sketchy for her new style. While some commentators object to her characters' lack of psychological and historical backgrounds, Beattie has been praised for the photographic accuracy of her descriptions, and many agree that her stories realistically reflect the disjointed and haphazard nature of contemporary life.
Chilly Scenes of Winter （novel） 1976
Distortions （short stories） 1976
Secrets and Surprises （short stories） 1978
Falling in Place （novel） 1980
The Burning House （short stories） 1982
Love Always （novel） 1985
Spectacles （children's literature） 1985
Where You'll Find Me, and Other Stories （short stories） 1986
Alex Katz （essays） 1987
Picturing Will （novel） 1989
What Was Mine （short stories） 1991
Another You （novel） 1995
My Life, Starring Dara Falcon （novel） 1997
Park City: New and Selected Stories （short stories） 1998
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SOURCE: “An Interview with Ann Beattie,” in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 31, No. 4, Winter, 1990, pp. 404-22.
[In the following interview, conducted on September 17, 1988, Beattie discusses her writing, including her style, subject matter, and themes.]
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1947, Ann Beattie is most recently the author of the critically acclaimed novel Picturing Will （1989）, a moving and often disturbing account of fragmented family life in contemporary American society. Establishing her literary reputation in 1976 with the publication of a novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, and a collection of short stories, Distortions, Beattie has since published the novels Falling in Place （1980） and Love Always （1986） and three collections of short stories: Secrets and Surprises （1978）, The Burning House （1982）, and Where You'll Find Me （1987）. She has also written a children's book, Spectacles （1985）, and commissioned books on painter Alex Katz and photographer Bob Adelman. In her fiction, Beattie deals mostly with relationships, as she tells us below. Whether she writes about relations between parents and children, husbands and wives, or men and women in general, she accurately records the little joys and sorrows that are daily experienced by members of her generation—the flower children of the sixties grown into...
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SOURCE: “An Interview with Ann Beattie,” in America, Vol. 162, No. 18, May 12, 1990, pp. 469-71.
[In the following interview, Beattie discusses her writing and her novel Picturing Will.]
Ann Beattie is a fiction writer who lives in Charlottesville, Va. Her works include Distortions （1976）, Chilly Scenes of Winter （1976）, Secrets and Surprises （1978）, Falling in Place （1980）, Jacklighting （1981）, The Burning House （1982）, Love Always （1985）, Where You'll Find Me, and Other Stories （1986） and Picturing Will （1990）. This interview focuses on her thoughts about writing fiction and her latest novel.
[Samway:] Since Picturing Will deals, in part, with childhood, I am sure our readers would care to know something about your background and, in particular, what situations in your early life you tend to put into your fiction.
[Beattie:] First of all, I was an only child. While it is not necessarily peculiar to only children—but it is often true of only children—they become watchers because they belong to small families and are tightly bonded to those units. At the same time, they are just little kids and so they can't really quite function at their parents' level. I think that from early on I just wasn't up to a lot of things that I was experiencing; I...
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SOURCE: “Ann Beattie: Less than Minimal,” in Commonweal, Vol. 117, No. 10, May 18, 1990, pp. 322-23.
[In the following review, Cooper provides an unfavorable assessment of Beattie's Picturing Will.]
Last November, Harper's Magazine published a lengthy essay by Tom Wolfe, “Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast,” in the which the New Journalist-cum-Newer Novelist lamented the state of contemporary American fiction. One aesthetic mistake singled out for special dismay was the movement often called minimalism—those “K-Mart Realists,” as Wolfe put it, who write about “lonely Rustic Septic Tank Rural settings, in a deadpan prose … with the emotions anesthetized, given a shot of novocaine.”
The problem with “movements” of writing, of course, is knowing just who belongs. Who are these much-celebrated, much-maligned minimalists? One would surely point to the late Raymond Carver. What about the Barthelme brothers—do they belong? What about Tobias Wolff? Joy Williams reads like one—sometimes. Peter Cameron most of the time. Tom Wolfe says that Robert Coover is one. Can we take his word for it?
One way out of this is to look past the sociology of K-Marts and rural settings, into the lives of words and sentences. When Ann Beattie, whose new novel, Picturing Will, has recently been published by Random House, burst onto the scene in 1976,...
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SOURCE: A review of Picturing Will, in Hudson Review, Vol. 43, No. 3, Autumn, 1990, pp. 489-97.
[In the following excerpt, Pritchard complains that Beattie's Picturing Will, “which begins intelligently enough, grows ever more random, trivial, and maddeningly unfocused.”]
… I wanted to like Ann Beattie's novel [Picturing Will] since it was advertised as both more human and more formally ambitious than her made-to-order stories （some of which stay in the memory） and her previous novels—of which Falling in Place, with its monstrous adolescent John Joel, is perhaps the most telling.1 But alas, Picturing Will, which begins intelligently enough, grows ever more random, trivial, and maddeningly unfocused. The opening segment has affecting moments: a young mother, Jody, and her child, Will, live together in Charlottesville （as does Ann Beattie）, having been deserted by Will's irresponsible father, Wayne. But the moments don't last: Jody becomes a photographer and hooks into the New York art scene through an entrepreneur named Haveabud. The latter is a wholly repulsive character （though Beattie doesn't seem to mind him） and as the book proceeds to leave Jody and follow Haveabud's journey—with Will and another young boy—to Will's father in Florida, things really come undone. （There is an especially unpleasant bit of sexual inversion involving...
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SOURCE: “Seeing Double,” in New York Review, Vol. 38, No. 14, August 15, 1991, pp. 9-11.
[In the following excerpt, Storace points out the strengths and weaknesses of Beattie's writing in What Was Mine.]
… Ann Beattie appears to be living a double life as a writer. As a writer, she may be married to literature, but she seems to be having an affair with television. There is a strain of Beattie story that can be read in a state something like the kind of sensuous amnesia that television often provokes. In this kind of Beattie story, character, decor, and language are smoothly recognizable without being truly specific, as if they were the results of casting instead of writing. We know details about the characters that are establishing instead of revealing; as in the story “Honey,” we know that Elizabeth is forty-five, drinks Courvoisier, owns wind chimes, but not what her personal history or passions are. Some of Beattie's characters and settings have at best the life of images; there can be something oddly interchangeable about them, as if they were not quite important to their own stories, and could be shifted to other stories with the right cosmetic changes.
Since 1976, Beattie has been known for her bittersweet, intelligent, and suave stories of the confusions and fears of prosperous, most often youthful, Americans. Her new collection, What Was Mine, with its catered...
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SOURCE: A review of What Was Mine, in America, Vol. 165, No. 10, October 12, 1991, pp. 253-54.
[In the following review, Hafner lauds Beattie's short story collection What Was Mine, stating, “Ann Beattie tells fine stories that are complex in their sense of time, perceptive in their revelations of people and compelling in their concerns for the ordinariness of life and the unpredictability of the future.”]
For the people in the world of Ann Beattie's short stories, things fall apart. In [What Was Mine], her ninth book （her fifth collection of short stories）, the characters are wonderfully realized as they live their lives with friends and neighbors, with husbands and wives and children, with interesting jobs in interesting places. But things just do not work out. Marriages, for example, keep breaking up, yet the reasons for the breakup are not always clear though they seem inevitable. The husbands and wives care for each other, yet they grow apart. In “Home to Marie” Marie plans a party, hires a caterer, then walks out on her husband so he'll know what it's like “to have food prepared … and then just to wait.” His reaction is to remember a time when he was mugged, presumably because Marie's action is as random and arbitrary and mean. In “What Was Mine,” Ethan's father survived the war only to be killed by a falling bucket of paint. Ethan's mother isn't able to...
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SOURCE: “Ann Beattie: Emotional Loss and Strategies of Reparation,” in The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 53, No. 4, 1993, pp. 317-33.
[In the following essay, Schneiderman analyzes the emotional loss and abandonment experienced by the characters in Beattie's fiction in terms of their love relationships.]
Much of the psychoanalytic literature dealing with emotional loss has focused on the early origins of narcissistic injury. Masterson, for example, speaks of “the mother's libidinal availability for the child's separation-individuation needs” （1981, p. 132）. The child is viewed as introjecting a “withdrawing maternal part-object,” with consequent abandonment depression. Whether one relates the resulting intrapsychic structure to borderline or narcissistic personality disorders, the depressive component cannot be ignored. My present purpose is to analyze Ann Beattie's fiction with special reference to emotional loss in the context of adult love relationships. I will also explore links between the sense of abandonment, depression, and a variety of coping mechanisms as described by Beattie. I have chosen Beattie because her work is highly representative of contemporary trends in fiction, in which love relationships are often depicted not only as problematic but as impoverished and filled with loneliness and a sense of loss. To the extent that these trends reflect patterns of...
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SOURCE: “Counternarrative: An Interview with Ann Beattie,” in Michigan Quarterly Review, Vol. 32, No. 3, Summer, 1993, pp. 359-79.
[In the following interview, Beattie discusses her writing style and how it has changed throughout her career.]
Book tours have a way of turning writers into gypsies. After Ann Beattie finished reading from What Was Mine at a Chicago-area book store, I drove her to her hotel, where, upon finding cold champagne and a fruit tray, compliments of her publisher, she expressed the same measure of surprised delight as a tourist might. Her appearance was equally down-to-earth. Beattie wore a loose tunic, patterned stretch pants, and bold socks. Nothing matched, she explained, because she purchased them on the road because her others were dirty. “My Reeboks,” she said, lifting one foot above the coffee table, “I recently bought in Key West. On sale.”
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1947, Ann Beattie enjoyed the early support of The New Yorker, where a great many of her stories of failed and failing relationships appeared. Her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter （1976）, and Distortions, a collection of short stories published that same year, established her as a spokesperson for the hippie-turned-yuppie generation. Other books quickly followed: Secrets and Surprises （1978）, Falling in Place （1980）, The...
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SOURCE: “About Ann Beattie,” in Ploughshares, Vol. 21, Nos. 2-3, Fall, 1995, pp. 231-33.
[In the following essay, Lee traces the history of Beattie's career.]
Myth has it that Ann Beattie published her first short story in The New Yorker when she was twenty-five years old, signed a first-read contract with them, and thereafter made five to seven annual appearances in the venerable magazine—with stories she would write in one sitting, in one afternoon.
As myths go, this one is pretty accurate. In the early seventies, Beattie was a Ph.D. candidate in literature at the University of Connecticut, and a professor, J. D. O'Hara, who was a mentor of sorts, began sticking stamps on envelopes and submitting Beattie's stories for her. After a couple of acceptances at literary quarterlies, O'Hara suggested she try The New Yorker. Her story came back with an encouraging note from one of the editors, Roger Angell, so Beattie tried again. And again. A total of twenty-two stories before The New Yorker finally took one. A seemingly arduous road, except for the fact that all the stories were written in a little over a year, each of them banged out in—yes, it's true—a few hours.
In 1976, the simultaneous publication of a collection of short stories, Distortions, and a novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter （for which the rough draft was written in...
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SOURCE: “Postmodernism and Its Children: The Case of Ann Beattie's ‘A Windy Day at the Reservoir,’” in South Atlantic Review, Vol. 61, No. 1, Winter, 1996, pp. 77-87.
[In the following essay, Clark analyzes how Beattie's “A Windy Day at the Reservoir” changes perceptions of narrative time, and cause and effect.]
In her book, Childhood and Cultural Despair, Leah Marcus observes that the appearance of childhood as an important literary subject “seems always to be a barometer for important cultural change” （242）. Marcus posits a relation between social and psychic disorientation and a literary concern with childhood, arguing finally that in certain historical periods—the fourteenth, the seventeenth, the early nineteenth centuries—the experience of cultural breakdown leads to an “idealization of the undifferentiated wholeness of the child's perceptions” （242）.
Perhaps not surprisingly, life at the end of the twentieth century generates its own array of compelling and troubled representations of childhood. From the postwar stories of John Cheever and John Updike to more recent work by Don DeLillo, Joyce Carol Oates, Ann Beattie, Mary Robison, Jayne Anne Phillips, Lorrie Moore, and many others, fictions of childhood offer a sometimes poignant index of cultural disarray: the disintegration of the bourgeois family, the erosion of communities and...
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SOURCE: A review of Another You, in Hudson Review, Vol. 49, No. 1, Spring, 1996, pp. 135-44.
[In the following excerpt, Pritchard praises Beattie for the way she presents “the common stuff of life” in Another You.]
… Ann Beattie has always seemed to me essentially a writer of short fiction, although from the beginning of her career, with Chilly Scenes of Winter, and Distortion, both published in 1976, her long fiction has kept pace with her volumes of stories. The new novel [Another You] is her fifth and longest, surely her most ambitious.1Another You eschews （as did Picturing Will, her last） the minimalist style of her earlier work and moves a good deal closer to realism, indeed—if it does not sound too demeaning—to conventional novelese. In Picturing Will things got terribly out of control in a rash of digressive, sentimental writing about a child who was scarcely there on the page. Another You, like all Beattie's work, is more than occasionally trying of a reader's patience, but cumulatively makes a kind of aesthetic and human sense. Its main character, Marshall Lockard, is a college English teacher in New Hampshire who becomes mildly involved with a female student; meanwhile his wife is currently having an affair, his stepmother is dying, and his family past is a complicated one indeed. Just how complicated we don't find...
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SOURCE: “All Her Lonely People,” in Book World, Vol. 28, No. 25, June 21, 1998, p. 5.
[In the following review, Solomon praises the stories in Park City and asserts that they show Beattie's growth throughout her career.]
Like a boxed set of Miles Davis CDs, Ann Beattie's offering of new and selected stories [Park City] is both superb in itself and an essential piece of history. Begin on page 137, after the eight new stories, and as you move through selected work from Beattie's previous five collections, then back for the new tales, you trace the evolution of one of our era's most vital masters of the short form.
Four stories from Distortions （1976） and six from Secrets and Surprises （1978） reflect the themes and early style that thrust upon Beattie a celebrity that might have ruined a weaker writer, and the oppressive title of spokesperson for her generation. To the Beatles' question “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?” the answer seemed “From Ann Beattie stories.” Here are the drifting, loveless '70s survivors whose unfulfilled '60s hope and hedonism left them isolate. There's 32-year-old Cynthia of “Wolf Dreams,” entering her third marriage, still without a clue. She “even takes half a sleeping pill with her lunch and that keeps her calm.” But she's fallen asleep at the wheel of her own life, so that her father...
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SOURCE: A review of My Life, Starring Dara Falcon, in World Literature Today, Vol. 73, No. 1, Winter, 1999, p. 145.
[In the following review, Merlin lauds Beattie's exploration of love and friendship in My Life, Starring Dara Falcon.]
Few topics have been as thoroughly mapped in literature as love. Yet the inevitable connection of love and sex tends to pull readers' attention toward the excitement or drama of the latter and away from the … what? ambiguity? intensity? shock? … of love. So it is refreshing that Ann Beattie's sixth novel, My Life, Starring Dara Falcon, recounts the unconsummated love between two friends, the title character and the novel's narrator, Jean Warner. Beattie creates a fascinating relationship between the meek Jean and the flamboyant Dara, who claims that Jean resembles Dara's only sister. By avoiding the sheer excitement and vitality of sex, Beattie encourages her readers to meditate upon the eccentric nature of desire.
Dara and Jean make an unlikely pair. An orphan raised by an elderly aunt who did not especially like children, Jean is happily, if quietly, married and living in New Hampshire with her husband's calm and uncommunicative family. Dara, on the other hand, arrives in town intent on making a splash. Presenting herself as an actress, she seems to crave the attention of everyone around her. And, unlike Jean, she tends to get it. Yet...
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SOURCE: A review of Park City: New and Selected Stories, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 19, No. 1, May–June, 1999, p. 194.
[In the following review of Park City, Evenson commends Beattie for being a consistently strong writer, although notes that her earlier work took more risks.]
Ann Beattie's collection of new and selected stories, Park City, gathers together thirty-six stories spanning Beattie's career. Each of Beattie's previous collections is liberally represented (from four stories from her first book, Distortions, to eight new uncollected stories), giving the reader the sense of both where Beattie has been and where she's going.
While it is true that the more recent stories tend to be more developed, the characters and emotions fuller, the writing sometimes more subtle, they're also less interested in cutting new ground. Beattie's earlier stories take more formal risks. In the earlier work the endings are more tenuous and risky, there are more (and more severe) disjunctions between sections, the characters themselves seeming more severe and less capable of communication. Even as late as the very fine novella “Windy Day at the Reservoir,” Beattie is willing to try something that questions the necessity of unity in the story. There is a certain urgency, too, to the finest of Beattie's earlier stories, such as “The Burning House,” that...
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Rifkind, Donna. “Homewrecker in the Nursery.” Book World 27, No. 25 (22 June 1997): 11.
Rifkind complains that Beattie's My Life, Starring Dara Falcon is disappointing.
MacLachlan, Suzanne. “Finding Meaning in Life's Complications.” Christian Science Monitor, (25 June 1998): B7.
MacLachlan asserts that while the stories in Beattie's collection Park City are bleak, they are worth reading for their authentic slice-of-life feel.
Additional coverage of Beattie's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Bestsellers, Vol. 90:2; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 53, 73; Contemporary Novelists; Contemporary Popular Writers; Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, Vol. 82; DISCovering Authors 3.0; DISCovering Authors Modules: Novelists and Popular Fiction and Genre Authors; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Editions 1 and 2; and Short Story Criticism, Vol. 11.
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