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Before Women Had Wings

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My name is Avocet Abigail Jackson. But because Mama couldn't find anyone who thought Avocet was a fine name for a child, she called me Bird. Which is okay by me. She named both her children after birds, her logic being that if we were named for something with wings then maybe we'd be able to fly above the shit in our lives. . . .                       So says Bird Jackson, My name is Avocet Abigail Jackson. But because Mama couldn't find anyone who thought Avocet was a fine name for a child, she called me Bird. Which is okay by me. She named both her children after birds, her logic being that if we were named for something with wings then maybe we'd be able to fly above the shit in our lives. . . .                       So says Bird Jackson, the mesmerizing narrator of Connie May Fowler's vivid and brilliantly written, Before Women Had Wings.                       Starstruck by a dime-store picture of Jesus, Bird fancies herself "His girlfriend" and embarks upon a spiritual quest for salvation, even as the chaos of her home life plunges her into a stony silence. In stark and honest language, she tells the tragic life of her father, a sweet-talking wanna-be country music star, tracks her older sister's perilous journey into womanhood, and witnesses her mother make a courageous and ultimately devastating decision.                       Yet most profound is Bird's own story--her struggle to sift through the ashes of her parents' lives, her meeting with Miss Zora, a healer whose prayers over the bones of winged creatures are meant to guide their souls to heaven, and her will to make sense of a world where fear is more plentiful than hope, retribution more valued than love. . . .                     "A thing of heart-rending beauty, a moving exploration of love and loss, violence and grief, forgiveness and redemption."           --Chicago Tribune                       "There is no denying the depth of Connie May Fowler's talent and the breadth of her imagination."           --The New York Times Book Review                       "Brilliant."           --The Boston Sunday Globe


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My name is Avocet Abigail Jackson. But because Mama couldn't find anyone who thought Avocet was a fine name for a child, she called me Bird. Which is okay by me. She named both her children after birds, her logic being that if we were named for something with wings then maybe we'd be able to fly above the shit in our lives. . . .                       So says Bird Jackson, My name is Avocet Abigail Jackson. But because Mama couldn't find anyone who thought Avocet was a fine name for a child, she called me Bird. Which is okay by me. She named both her children after birds, her logic being that if we were named for something with wings then maybe we'd be able to fly above the shit in our lives. . . .                       So says Bird Jackson, the mesmerizing narrator of Connie May Fowler's vivid and brilliantly written, Before Women Had Wings.                       Starstruck by a dime-store picture of Jesus, Bird fancies herself "His girlfriend" and embarks upon a spiritual quest for salvation, even as the chaos of her home life plunges her into a stony silence. In stark and honest language, she tells the tragic life of her father, a sweet-talking wanna-be country music star, tracks her older sister's perilous journey into womanhood, and witnesses her mother make a courageous and ultimately devastating decision.                       Yet most profound is Bird's own story--her struggle to sift through the ashes of her parents' lives, her meeting with Miss Zora, a healer whose prayers over the bones of winged creatures are meant to guide their souls to heaven, and her will to make sense of a world where fear is more plentiful than hope, retribution more valued than love. . . .                     "A thing of heart-rending beauty, a moving exploration of love and loss, violence and grief, forgiveness and redemption."           --Chicago Tribune                       "There is no denying the depth of Connie May Fowler's talent and the breadth of her imagination."           --The New York Times Book Review                       "Brilliant."           --The Boston Sunday Globe

30 review for Before Women Had Wings

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This book should be depressing. It really should be, but when I read the final word and closed the book for the last time, I came away with an awesome sense of hope. Connie May Fowler expertly explores themes of growing up, poverty, abuse, abandonment and grief. The graphic descriptions of abuse, both physical and verbal, turned my stomach, but rather than being voyeuristic, the pain enhanced the feeling of hope. Readers actually believed that the characters could break out of the spiral they fi This book should be depressing. It really should be, but when I read the final word and closed the book for the last time, I came away with an awesome sense of hope. Connie May Fowler expertly explores themes of growing up, poverty, abuse, abandonment and grief. The graphic descriptions of abuse, both physical and verbal, turned my stomach, but rather than being voyeuristic, the pain enhanced the feeling of hope. Readers actually believed that the characters could break out of the spiral they find themselves in. In fact most of the dramatic tension comes in the interplay between the hope and the disappointment. Fowler captures the voice of a young girl, masterfully, looking at the world through her eyes we explore it as a child would, see it as a child would and ask questions that a child would ask when living in a grown up world. Before Women Had Wings is both heart breaking and restoring.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tara

    I'm sorry it took me so long to get to this book. There are just too many wonderful books to read in this world, and this was one of them. Gorgeous prose, strong voice, unique insights that raise this typical story of abuse to something greater. I'm heading over to check out her other books! I'm sorry it took me so long to get to this book. There are just too many wonderful books to read in this world, and this was one of them. Gorgeous prose, strong voice, unique insights that raise this typical story of abuse to something greater. I'm heading over to check out her other books!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gayle

    I LOVED this book! It takes place in the mid sixies in Florida and is narrated by a young girl who was the same age I was when I lived in Florida then. I could just breathe that humid, salty clime that was part and parcel of my childhood! But this book has a serious theme--the abuse, alcoholism, and poverty that children are victims to through no fault of their own. It is painful to visit such themes but the wonderful "grace-note" of a surprising savior to the protaganist, Bird (how southern a n I LOVED this book! It takes place in the mid sixies in Florida and is narrated by a young girl who was the same age I was when I lived in Florida then. I could just breathe that humid, salty clime that was part and parcel of my childhood! But this book has a serious theme--the abuse, alcoholism, and poverty that children are victims to through no fault of their own. It is painful to visit such themes but the wonderful "grace-note" of a surprising savior to the protaganist, Bird (how southern a name--I had a great Aunt Bird in my life...) I want all my girlfriends to read this book. I got my copy from the library.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    My sister gave me this book to read and I put it on the shelf. My younger daughter picked it up a year later and read it because she just wanted something to read. When she finished, she came and laid down next to me, started crying and said I love you Mom. After that, I read the book and it so resonated with me and I felt that some of my sister and my lives were in there. And I called my mom and told her I loved her. More importantly, I gained some understanding and insight into her life. I sob My sister gave me this book to read and I put it on the shelf. My younger daughter picked it up a year later and read it because she just wanted something to read. When she finished, she came and laid down next to me, started crying and said I love you Mom. After that, I read the book and it so resonated with me and I felt that some of my sister and my lives were in there. And I called my mom and told her I loved her. More importantly, I gained some understanding and insight into her life. I sobbed during this book - it really touched me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Joanna Bastian

    "Details are what I'm about - stacks and stacks of details - the bones of my family, calcified vessels, the marrow chock-full of wishes and regrets. In my mind I pick up the bones one by one - a leg bone, a hip, then a spine that looks like a witch's ladder. Before you know it, this skeleton made of memories is rattling me." So begins the tale of a six year old girl in 1965 Florida. The tale is rich in details that convey the stifling humidity, the salty scents, and the ring of the cidadas. Avoc "Details are what I'm about - stacks and stacks of details - the bones of my family, calcified vessels, the marrow chock-full of wishes and regrets. In my mind I pick up the bones one by one - a leg bone, a hip, then a spine that looks like a witch's ladder. Before you know it, this skeleton made of memories is rattling me." So begins the tale of a six year old girl in 1965 Florida. The tale is rich in details that convey the stifling humidity, the salty scents, and the ring of the cidadas. Avocet Abigal Jackson tells her story of finding her own wings while trying to be strong for a family that has lost it's bearings. The imagery is vivid, the writing captivating. I loved loved loved this tale and couldn't put the book down. I found this book on an airline, in the seat pocket. There is a name and address on a slip of paper that fell into my lap when I reached page 143. I am considering one of two options: A) Sending the book to that address along with a note of appreciation for letting me 'discover' it. B) Leaving the book on another flight for someone else to discover it, and then sending a thank you note to the address I found in the book. What would you do with a phenomenal book?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shaindel

    I had always wanted to read this book because Connie May Fowler was a member of the writing community where I lived in Central Florida from 2004-2006, and I saw her frequently at literary events, and I'd heard great things about this book. I finally decided that this was the summer off from teaching that I would read it, and I'm so pleased that I did. Connie May Fowler can create sympathy in dysfunctional characters in a way that few other writers can. I really enjoyed her portrayal of the young I had always wanted to read this book because Connie May Fowler was a member of the writing community where I lived in Central Florida from 2004-2006, and I saw her frequently at literary events, and I'd heard great things about this book. I finally decided that this was the summer off from teaching that I would read it, and I'm so pleased that I did. Connie May Fowler can create sympathy in dysfunctional characters in a way that few other writers can. I really enjoyed her portrayal of the young sisters Bird and Phoebe coping with their abusive parents and the fact that the parents were round, believable characters. I felt that the conclusion of the book was wrapped up a little too quickly, but it was a five-star read nonetheless.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marci

    I want to give this book 3.5 stars, perhaps 4. I really enjoyed this book beginning to end. I read it in basically two sittings, not wanting to put it down -the story was so riveting. I had a few problems with some of the writing and tone of the book and that is why I downgraded it to 3.5. The two issues I had were that the character is 9 years old and has some very profound thoughts, which I found hard to believe came from a 9 year old. And, although it is clear during most of the story that it I want to give this book 3.5 stars, perhaps 4. I really enjoyed this book beginning to end. I read it in basically two sittings, not wanting to put it down -the story was so riveting. I had a few problems with some of the writing and tone of the book and that is why I downgraded it to 3.5. The two issues I had were that the character is 9 years old and has some very profound thoughts, which I found hard to believe came from a 9 year old. And, although it is clear during most of the story that it is being told in past tense it is still confusing to decipher what thoughts she is having as a 9 year old and what it being reflected back onto the little girl from the narrator's later 'older self' perspective. The positive outcome of the more advanced perspective is that it is engaging to an adult reader even though the main character is a child. The other issue is that although most of the writing is fresh and original, this author does not shy away from cliches and in a few instances, overused cliches. With that said, I loved this book and highly recommend it. It can be therapeutic for those who have been in abusive situations, either abuser or abused. At times the subject matter is distressing but in context, can be healing. I would compare this book to others like, Glass Castle and White Oleander. If you liked those books you are pretty likely to like this one.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Khristina Chess

    I read this book years ago when it released and was a hot title on Oprah's Book Club. I picked it up again, remembering that I enjoyed it and wanting a good read. I didn't remember what it was about. Bird is a young girl in a terrible situation. After her father commits suicide, her alcoholic and abusive mother relocates Bird and her sister to Tampa, FL, where they live in a motel in poverty. As things worsen at home, Bird finds a safe haven in spending time with Zora, a strange woman who also li I read this book years ago when it released and was a hot title on Oprah's Book Club. I picked it up again, remembering that I enjoyed it and wanting a good read. I didn't remember what it was about. Bird is a young girl in a terrible situation. After her father commits suicide, her alcoholic and abusive mother relocates Bird and her sister to Tampa, FL, where they live in a motel in poverty. As things worsen at home, Bird finds a safe haven in spending time with Zora, a strange woman who also lives on the motel property. Before Women Had Wings is about generational abuse. And how to stop it. The book is a fast read, and I couldn't help cheering for Bird and hoping for her to have a happy ending. Or at least a path to a happy ending.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    When I started reading this book,it reminded me of Bastard Out of Carolina; I also saw similiarities to Glass Castle. Bird, a young girl, narrates the novel about her dysfunctional highly abusive family. The strength of the book is her voice -- the pain is palpable and the coping mechanisms she employs commendable. Her relationship with an elderly neighbor is an important reminder about how anyone can make a huge difference to a child in our own neighborhoods/communities with relatively small ge When I started reading this book,it reminded me of Bastard Out of Carolina; I also saw similiarities to Glass Castle. Bird, a young girl, narrates the novel about her dysfunctional highly abusive family. The strength of the book is her voice -- the pain is palpable and the coping mechanisms she employs commendable. Her relationship with an elderly neighbor is an important reminder about how anyone can make a huge difference to a child in our own neighborhoods/communities with relatively small gestures. In my opinion, the book falls apart at the conclusion which is totally unbelievable.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Huether

    Avocet Abigail Jackson known as" Bird" was seven years old when her Daddy killed himself. Bird decides to read a Gideon Bible, as she searches on a spiritual quest. She did a lot of daydreaming. It was her escape mechanism in light of her angry and abusive mother. Bird makes friends with a neighbor, Miss Zora. Miss Zora takes Bird and her sister away so the mother can get the help she needs. The story is funny and sad, but not without hope. Avocet Abigail Jackson known as" Bird" was seven years old when her Daddy killed himself. Bird decides to read a Gideon Bible, as she searches on a spiritual quest. She did a lot of daydreaming. It was her escape mechanism in light of her angry and abusive mother. Bird makes friends with a neighbor, Miss Zora. Miss Zora takes Bird and her sister away so the mother can get the help she needs. The story is funny and sad, but not without hope.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    This was a heart-wrenching good read about a young girl with a good heart growing up with alcoholic parents. Her life is tough, she's belittled constantly, physically and mentally beaten and yet she still loves her parents. The characters are so well portrayed, the writing so realistic and yet it's not all doom and gloom. There's some tender moments and an overall good storyline. This was a heart-wrenching good read about a young girl with a good heart growing up with alcoholic parents. Her life is tough, she's belittled constantly, physically and mentally beaten and yet she still loves her parents. The characters are so well portrayed, the writing so realistic and yet it's not all doom and gloom. There's some tender moments and an overall good storyline.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ruby

    (Autobiographical Novel)—"Back in 1965, on a day so hot that God Almighty should have been writhing with sick-to-the-stomach guilt over driving His children out of the cool green of Eden, my daddy walked into our general store, held a revolver to his head, told my mama that he couldn't take any more and that because of her harsh ways and his many sins he was going to blow his brains out." What an opening sentence! Totally gripping. It demands that you keep reading while deftly establishing the v (Autobiographical Novel)—"Back in 1965, on a day so hot that God Almighty should have been writhing with sick-to-the-stomach guilt over driving His children out of the cool green of Eden, my daddy walked into our general store, held a revolver to his head, told my mama that he couldn't take any more and that because of her harsh ways and his many sins he was going to blow his brains out." What an opening sentence! Totally gripping. It demands that you keep reading while deftly establishing the voice and tone of this autobiographical novel. Resolving this incident takes the first 15-20 pages and then the initial breakneck pace of the novel slows to consider the day-in-day-out bewilderment of a child growing up in an abusive family with parents who can't even navigate their own emotional landscapes, much less guide their children. The writing is superb but the story is painful. Knowing that Fowler was exorcising the ghosts of her own past helped me endure the pain through to the happy ending when the women in this family do finally sprout wings, amazingly through the loving kindness and maturity of a neighbor.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sterlingcindysu

    I'm not a big fan of the cover. Between that black and white photo of a wooden cabin and the blurb I had the sense it would read like Tobacco Road. So I had this feeling that it would read as if it were set in 1940, not 1960s and was startled when 60's items (orange juice can rollers, granny bags) were introduced. Fowler is a fine writer...but you know, I don't think I'll be reading other novels from her. The abuse is just too violent (and perhaps described too well.) In the back I read that thi I'm not a big fan of the cover. Between that black and white photo of a wooden cabin and the blurb I had the sense it would read like Tobacco Road. So I had this feeling that it would read as if it were set in 1940, not 1960s and was startled when 60's items (orange juice can rollers, granny bags) were introduced. Fowler is a fine writer...but you know, I don't think I'll be reading other novels from her. The abuse is just too violent (and perhaps described too well.) In the back I read that this story is very close to her life which made it even sadder and me more depressed. Others said they felt this had a hopeful ending...but an ending chapter explaining how everything went would have been better.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rena Searles

    Loved this book! Sensitive treatment of a difficult subject and a triumph of the human spirit. I related so much to the little girl in the story and her daydreaming to escape the harshness of her reality. Also, appreciated the author's skill in portraying the parents in an empathetic light. Well written and authentic. Loved this book! Sensitive treatment of a difficult subject and a triumph of the human spirit. I related so much to the little girl in the story and her daydreaming to escape the harshness of her reality. Also, appreciated the author's skill in portraying the parents in an empathetic light. Well written and authentic.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Shelby *trains flying monkeys*

    Powerful book! I read this in one sitting last night because my heart was totally drawn into Bird's story. Ms. Fowler portrays the abused child perfectly. The love/hate relationship with the parent. She also gives you insight to the abuser. It's a book that will stay with you after you finish it. Powerful book! I read this in one sitting last night because my heart was totally drawn into Bird's story. Ms. Fowler portrays the abused child perfectly. The love/hate relationship with the parent. She also gives you insight to the abuser. It's a book that will stay with you after you finish it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Camie

    Bird is a 7 year old girl living in early 1960’s Georgia who escapes from her life of abuse and poverty by dreaming about brighter days. This is a beautifully written story that someone earlier reviewed as being “ heartbreaking but it won’t leave you heartbroken.” Read for Southern Reads 5 stars

  17. 4 out of 5

    Qiez

    I struggled (mentally,emotionally) with the women. A very good book for those who adore feminism and the likes.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brittany Michelle

    I can't even explain how much I love this book because I can relate to Bird's upbringing and her trials so much. I often got lost in some passages, confusing her pain and misfortunes for my own... I can't even explain how much I love this book because I can relate to Bird's upbringing and her trials so much. I often got lost in some passages, confusing her pain and misfortunes for my own...

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jodell

    Birdie grew up the youngest of three children to a rough, tough, and rowdy world of parents who fought, drank and involved her in their family drama. With beatings and verbal abuse daily Bird try's to stay out of their way but rarely suceeds. Every day her father rhreatens to kill himself in front of Bird and he finally succeeds. Bird is led to believe by her mother's words that its all her fault. Its funny the things children believe. When her mother moves the family to Florida into a decerped, Birdie grew up the youngest of three children to a rough, tough, and rowdy world of parents who fought, drank and involved her in their family drama. With beatings and verbal abuse daily Bird try's to stay out of their way but rarely suceeds. Every day her father rhreatens to kill himself in front of Bird and he finally succeeds. Bird is led to believe by her mother's words that its all her fault. Its funny the things children believe. When her mother moves the family to Florida into a decerped, derelict motel with individual units she meets her savior. Miss. Zora is Birds life line and although Bird's mother tries her best to sabotage the relationship out of spite jealousy, and fear, it flourishes. Bird's sensitive, tender heart and body takes quite a battering following her fathers death but Ms. Zora, and Bird's older brother who flits in and out of her life help her to navigate. One night after a terrible beating 7 year old Bird runs away and she meets a biker that befriends her and shows her how to fly one dark night on the back of a motorcycle and forget her troubles. Bird's ability to find joy in small things like a dove with glitter on it, a three legged dog named Sam, a Dr. Pepper, swimming at the motel pool, talks with Ms. Zora, and dreams of a red bicycle with a banana seat help her survive. Fly Avocet, Fly sweet girl.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sara Chapman

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book is a page turner, but towards the end it’s nerve racking to turn them because you’re afraid of what might happen! Bird is a sweet, innocent girl trying to grow up and learn what life is supposed to be about. It’s sad how much violence she encounters yet she remains pretty hopeful overall. I wish her siblings could’ve done more to help her along the way. I knew Miss Zora would be an angel the minute they met. It was hard to believe her stubborn, drunk Mama would take Miss Zora’s advice This book is a page turner, but towards the end it’s nerve racking to turn them because you’re afraid of what might happen! Bird is a sweet, innocent girl trying to grow up and learn what life is supposed to be about. It’s sad how much violence she encounters yet she remains pretty hopeful overall. I wish her siblings could’ve done more to help her along the way. I knew Miss Zora would be an angel the minute they met. It was hard to believe her stubborn, drunk Mama would take Miss Zora’s advice so quickly - that was the only part of the story that didn’t seem realistic to me. Although, I did enjoy the ending very much, I had no idea where the story was going until then.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    This novel is a little hard to read due to the dysfunction of the family, just made me tense, sad and mad but I didn't want to stop reading it. Oprah Winfrey made a TV movie of it and it was also quite good. Read it almost 20 years ago so I can't remember enough to write any details but I still have the book which is an indication that I may felt that I might read it again. This novel is a little hard to read due to the dysfunction of the family, just made me tense, sad and mad but I didn't want to stop reading it. Oprah Winfrey made a TV movie of it and it was also quite good. Read it almost 20 years ago so I can't remember enough to write any details but I still have the book which is an indication that I may felt that I might read it again.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Diana S

    3.5 stars

  23. 5 out of 5

    Derek Moody

    I read this book years ago and remember loving it so much. I should find it again and see if I still think it’s as good as I did before.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Heidi Bakk-Hansen

    Gut-wrenching. Ugly-crying was had in the end.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    This book is achingly sad but not depressing, as I half expected it to be. The story it tells is happening all around us, even if we don't see it. But, there is hope, sometimes. This book is achingly sad but not depressing, as I half expected it to be. The story it tells is happening all around us, even if we don't see it. But, there is hope, sometimes.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Chana

    This book is about domestic abuse between spouses and to children, drinking, hopelessness and poverty. Painful to read, very difficult to continue when expecting the next violent act, the next horrible name calling. In a way I can understand people acting and reacting in the cycle of violence passed from parents to children, but the action of Bird's father, taken when he was trying to punish his wife, was one of the most cold-blooded acts of domestic violence I have ever heard of. I didn't forgi This book is about domestic abuse between spouses and to children, drinking, hopelessness and poverty. Painful to read, very difficult to continue when expecting the next violent act, the next horrible name calling. In a way I can understand people acting and reacting in the cycle of violence passed from parents to children, but the action of Bird's father, taken when he was trying to punish his wife, was one of the most cold-blooded acts of domestic violence I have ever heard of. I didn't forgive him. Two people outside of the family make the difference for Bird; Miss Zora - a great character (I want her in my own life), and the angel in guise of a big biker on a Harley outside a strip club. Within the family her big sister and big brother (although he is out of the house when much of the story occurs) are allies as they are all suffering through the same family violence, each trying to survive it in their own way. This story, while fictional, is largely based on the events in Connie May Fowler's own violence filled upbringing.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kay Hommedieu

    I loved this book even though it had some harsh scenes of family violence and alcoholism. Bird is the younger of two daughters who live in Florida in the late sixties with their alcoholic parents who used the belt on their young daughters almost as much as they raised the bottle. Even though the situation seems heart wrenching, the girls, especially Bird, who's telling the story,live their lives the best way that they can. More later. 6/2/2018 I loved this book even though it had some harsh scenes of family violence and alcoholism. Bird is the younger of two daughters who live in Florida in the late sixties with their alcoholic parents who used the belt on their young daughters almost as much as they raised the bottle. Even though the situation seems heart wrenching, the girls, especially Bird, who's telling the story,live their lives the best way that they can. More later. 6/2/2018

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kim L.

    This one is a tough read because it is heart wrenching from start to finish. It is beautifully written. The fact that it is told by the child, Bird, makes it all the more powerful. I'd have given it 4 stars but it made me sad I couldn't quite do it. This one is a tough read because it is heart wrenching from start to finish. It is beautifully written. The fact that it is told by the child, Bird, makes it all the more powerful. I'd have given it 4 stars but it made me sad I couldn't quite do it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Strawberry Fields

    I LOVED this book. Couldn't put it down! I LOVED this book. Couldn't put it down!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    A young girl tries to "come of age" while her family collapses around her. She's rescued by a mysterious woman with seemingly magical powers. Similar story to Secret Life of Bees but way, way better. A young girl tries to "come of age" while her family collapses around her. She's rescued by a mysterious woman with seemingly magical powers. Similar story to Secret Life of Bees but way, way better.

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