Mink River

Mink River❰Reading❯ ➶ Mink River Author Brian Doyle – Heartforum.co.uk Like Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood and Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Brian Doyle's stunning fiction debut brings a town to life through the jumbled lives and braided stories of its people In a Like Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood and Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio,Brian Doyle's stunning fiction debut brings a town to life through the jumbled lives and braided stories of its people In a small fictional town on the Oregon coast there are love affairs and almostloveaffairs, mystery and hilarity, bears and tears, brawls and boats, a garrulous logger and a silent doctor, rain and pain, Irish immigrants and Salish stories, mud and laughter There's a Department of Public Works that gives haircuts and counts insects, a policeman addicted to Puccini, a philosophizing crow, beer and berries An expedition is mounted, a crime committed, and there's an unbelievably huge picnic on the football field Babies are born A car is cut in half with a saw A river confesses what it's thinking It's the tale of a town, written in a distinct and lyrical voice, and readers will close the book than a little sad to leave the village of Neawanaka, on the wet coast of Oregon, beneath the hills that used to boast the biggest trees in the history of the world.

Doyle's essays and poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, The American Scholar, Orion, Commonweal, and The Georgia Review, among other magazines and journals, and in The Times of London, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Kansas City Star, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Ottawa Citizen, and Newsday, among other newspapers He was a book reviewer for The Oregonian and a contributing es.

Mink River Kindle Ä Paperback
    Mink River Kindle Ä Paperback addicted to Puccini, a philosophizing crow, beer and berries An expedition is mounted, a crime committed, and there's an unbelievably huge picnic on the football field Babies are born A car is cut in half with a saw A river confesses what it's thinking It's the tale of a town, written in a distinct and lyrical voice, and readers will close the book than a little sad to leave the village of Neawanaka, on the wet coast of Oregon, beneath the hills that used to boast the biggest trees in the history of the world."/>
  • Paperback
  • 320 pages
  • Mink River
  • Brian Doyle
  • English
  • 05 August 2019
  • 9780870715853

10 thoughts on “Mink River

  1. Candi says:

    4.5 stars

    Sometimes I think that all people in all times must have had the same joys and sorrows... Everyone thinks that the old days were better, or that they were harder, and that modern times are chaotic and complex, or easier all around, but I think people’s hearts have always been the same, happy and sad, and that hasn’t changed at all. It’s just the shape of lives that change, not lives themselves.

    This beautifully lyrical, captivating novel is unlike anything I can recall having read before. There are a multitude of characters, the people that inhabit the town of Neawanaka on the coast of Oregon. The Mink River runs right through the middle of town. Much like the twists and turns of the river, the stories of the people are ever changing. Each thread is essential to the fabric of this grand tapestry of life.

    … so many stories, all changing by the minute, all swirling and braiding and weaving and spinning and stitching themselves one to another and to the stories of creatures in that place, both the quick sharp-eyed ones and the rooted green ones and the ones underground and the ones too small to see, and to stories that used to be here, and still are here in ways that you can sense sometimes if you listen with your belly, and the first green shoots of stories that will be told in years to come…

    Mink River is episodic in nature, but it all comes together with such elegance. The expressiveness of the novel points to the fact that indeed Brian Doyle was not just a writer of novels and essays; he was also a gifted poet. Many of the sentences are structured as in the quote above. At first the run-on quality of the writing gave me pause. As did the element of magical realism. It didn’t take me long to completely forget about these literary stylistic devices, however. Rather, I fell completely under the spell.

    The inhabitants of Neawanaka are everyday people with struggles and joys. Everyone has a story to share with one another. And the stories are what lift them up. I loved so many of these characters. Some of them are descendants of The People, an unnamed tribe of Native Americans that settled on the coast thousands of years ago. Some of them trace their ancestry to those who suffered from The Hunger in Ireland. Some are a mix of both. One is not even a person at all, although this little peculiarity often slipped my mind. Moses is a crow. A crow who can think, talk and laugh. He’s even a hero. Some of the most moving scenes in the entire book have Moses front and center.

    Moses, who had been taught to speak by a shy nun who found him broken in the mud, is intricately courteous and circumspect; also he has a dry humor and a corvidian cast of mind, as he likes to say, that combine to make his remarks intriguing.

    Such a kaleidoscopic cast of characters grace the pages of this book – two best friends who run The Department of Public Works and do far more than fix roads and sewer lines (they even give haircuts); a doctor who names his cigarettes after the Apostles; a man who sells boxes and can count down the number of days he has left in this world; a cop who is obsessed with Puccini’s Tosca; a twelve-year old boy who wears his hair in braids like his legendary Irish hero; the owner of the town pub who wonders how she got to this point in her life; an artist who is going through a crisis; a brother and sister who have been abandoned by one parent and mistreated by another; and many more too numerous to name but each as significant as the next. Not one life is minimized. We come to understand what makes each of them tick, and it’s all so impactful when one thinks about what this means in this great big world of ours. Nature itself is a character. Not just the animals, but the ocean, the river, the forest. All of it. Everything matters.

    The way hawks huddle their shoulders angrily against hissing snow. Wrens whirring in the bare bones of bushes in winter. They way swallows and swifts veer and whirl and swim and slice and carve and curve and swerve. The way that frozen dew outlines every blade of grass. Salmonberries thimbleberries cloudberries snowberries elderberries salalberries gooseberries. My children learning to read. My wife’s voice velvet in my ear at night in the dark under the covers…

    I could go on and share more of these exquisite lines, but it’s best to experience the rest on your own. This is a remarkable book that blends magical realism, folklore, and pure, simple, ordinary lives together to illustrate the beauty in each individual creature, person, or piece of creation. I have just discovered Brian Doyle, only to learn that he passed away a couple of years ago. While we won’t be enriched with any new work, I am pleased to see that there is a wonderful backlist that I can look forward to. Highly recommended if you are a fan of strikingly lyrical writing and a good dose of magical realism - even if you aren’t, you just might want to give this a try. I’m sure glad I did.

    There’s a story in everything and the more stories I hear the less sad I am.

  2. Carla Perry says:

    The language, the writing style, the people, the philosophy? All great. I can't help but cry. I'm crying for the people in the book who died, who were lost, who were injured. I'm crying because not everyone dies when they could have. I'm crying because some people heal. Because some children heal. And because some people get to have love, give love, remain in love, which is so beautiful to walk among, my footsteps causing no distraction. I'm crying, too, because for some there is no love. I now believe a crow can talk his wise thoughts in perfectly lucid English sentences, that bear language can be written down and explained, that the people who populate the area of Mink River are real and that if I just happened to wander north to Neawanaka, I could stop in at Grace's pub and go visit No Horses's sculpture studio and if I were lucky, could sit at the dining table with Worried Man and Maple Head and Daniel and Owen and then go sit with Cedar outside the Department of Public Works as the sun goes down. I'll miss Cedar. I already miss them all. Brian Doyle has written a fine book.

  3. Dianah says:

    I haven't enjoyed a book this much in sooooooo long! Set in a tiny coastal Oregon town, this story is populated with characters who seem to leap off the page and speak their lines directly into your ear: they are that real. Brian Doyle breaks all the good writing rules, yet this book is rich and layered and beautiful and profound. Riotous and complex, Doyle's lush tale compels you to read faster than you'd like, because you can't stand not knowing just what the heck is going to happen here. Every sentence is a tiny jewel you want to roll around on your tongue and slowly savor. Quirky, unique and delightful, the tale of Neawanaka gets under your skin and lives inside you. Go read it!

  4. Margitte says:

    I thought this was going to be a bit chaotic, but it wasn't. It was certainly the best read of 2020 so far.

    Moses the Crow, with his mouthy wisdoms and his courage, got me going page after page after page, and he wasn't the main character at all. Mmmm...wait... perhaps he was, after all.

    He mourned the death of the elderly nun who rescued him and taught him to communicate. He adored psalms. Sometimes he maneuvered a few new moves while flying, just to feel like an eagle or something else that might fancy him. Sometimes, in flight, he would snap at mosquitoes just to experience what is was like to be a swift. Most of the time he was quite successful...

    Moses just knew how to bond a community together. He had a bird's eye insight into what was happening in town, that humans were not as aware of. And remember, he could talk...

    The ambiance of the book, with a touch of magic realism, and the lyrical prose, had me excited again to read a book and really enjoy it. This was not only word-magic, it was also unique, and so refreshing!

    Cedar, the mystery man who once came floating into town, unconscious and blessed with memory loss, got the Department Of Public Works going with his dear friend, actually the man who rescued him from drowning. He suspected a kind of god complex since he had it in his head that they should fix people, instead of doing maintenance on the highways, stream beds and storm drains. His best friend, William Mohan, also known as Worried Man, married to Maple Head, the teacher, could not walk down the street, or enjoy dinner at his own home when someone's pain came calling in his head. Thus it happened that these two gentlemen became known as the town's rescuers.

    Worried Man: But we are also prey to what I might call a vast and overwhelming ambition. I mean, really, to preserve history, collect stories, repair marriages, prevent crime, augment economic status, promote chess, manage insect populations, run sports leagues, isn’t that a bit much? We even give haircuts.
    It's not that they can compare themselves with Joan of Arc, or less known by her real name Jeanne La Pucelle of Domrémy. She changed history.

    Perhaps they couldn't, but they sure changed the future for this old fishing- and logging village who were cash strapped and prone to that dark room called depression. In hard times, the less agreeable side tends to rule. That's a diplomatic statement. Cruelty might be a better choice of word. It was no different in this small village. Children suffer the most.

    Twelve-year-old Daniel Cooney, Worried Man's grandson, had to figure his nutty family out. He had ample time when he had a cycling accident and had to stay in bed for a few weeks. His dad was Irish; his Irish granddad died building a road that went nowhere; his Irish grandmother lived on a hill in Ireland which she refused to leave; his granddad from here thinks about time all the time and feels other people's pain in his head; his grandmother from here is the strictest teacher in the history of the world; his mom Nora, real name No Horses, can hear wood talk and identify colors by their smells. Owen Cooney taped stories for his son Daniel and worked with that talking Crow. Moses loves to sit on the old Oregon State University helmet in Owen's workshop which is crammed with automobile parts and assorted related ephemera. Owen and Moses were friends since the nun brought him in for repairs, years ago.

    There was the mama bear who loved to read the New York Times at the Department of Public Works, and the multitude of other characters introducing humanity to the reader in all our splendor. Warts and all.

    The Oregon coast became a multilayered trail of stories and backstories. Whether it was voyages or journeys, the reader is taken back to the hills of Ireland, as well as the wonder mountains of snow somewhere in Oregon, where Time might be waiting for Cedar and Worried Man to explain the meaning of life as we know and love it. That was a Bucket List wish that only two best friends could understand.

    The towns folks came together when Daniel had his accident. Even the mama bear had her story to fit in.

    Different events in town brought courage and determination out in everyone. There was Timmy and Rachel, Sara and Michael, George Christie and his daughter Cyra, Red Hugh O'Donell, father of Declan, Grace, Paeder and Niall, and Nicholas and his dad. The doctor knew the most about everyone, even the man in the brown coat, and the man who lied in court. They were all peripheral characters whose lives became new stories to tell. The stories were all changing by the minute, all swirling and braiding and weaving and spinning and stitching themselves one to another ...

    It is truly a warm, often humorous and heartfelt read, written with so much compassion and talent for storytelling. This is one of those novels that I would love to read again. That seldom, if ever, happens.


  5. David Pace says:

    I meant to write a review of the sprawling novel of America’s Oregon Coast, Mink River by Brian Doyle over Thanksgiving, because it was what I was grateful for. As the year ends, I realize I’m thinking about it still. Grateful for it, still.

    Doyle’s narrative style is off-putting (at first), but eventually one that wins you over by sheer earnestness. The narrative is episodic and, what you would call in the dramatic arts, an ensemble piece. If there is a protagonist it is the town of 500 residents itself called Neawanaka on the northwest coast. The cast of characters as one would expect in an outing like this is many: the village doctor who smokes the same number of cigarettes each day, each smoke the name of one of the 12 apostles (plus Matthias who replaced Judas); A working intuitive named “Worried Man,” one of two who runs the tiny (and comprehensive) Department of Public Works; his married daughter who therapeutically carves massive wood chunks and is named “No Horses”; the owner/bartender of the local watering hole who pines for a change in career, a change of a scenery; a crow named “Moses,” who talks and has, literally, a bird’s eye view of the town; a man who beats his son who is called “the man who beats his son”; another in hospital called “the man with thirteen days to live [or twelve…or two, or one…].”

    You get the picture. It’s all rather disorienting at first, not unlike a long Russian novel is disorienting with its many characters with multiple names. But in the end, you love these folks, animated by their Irish, and mixed Irish-other (including Native American) heritage, who in a lesser work might be overtly referred to as the “salt of the earth.” You love the town, and the smell of the alder and pine burns off the pages when it’s not, in the form of a log, falling off a truck and going through a windshield and killing a man named Red Hugh O Donnell whose adult children, one a fisherman who is ambivalent about the sea, and his sister who has a drinking problem, aren’t exactly sure how to process the death of their brutal father except, for the time being, to go back to the sea and drink more, respectively.

    This is not to say there is no plot. There are several extended questions that inter-weave here: Will the boy Daniel who fell off a cliff on his bicycle walk again? Will his mother be able to recover from “the unshakable sense of herself so shaken”; Will the opera-obsessed cop be able to capture the child-abusing fugitive arrested through Worried Man’s premonitions but who then escaped? Will Moses still be a crow if he can’t fly? How will there ever be enough money to survive in a town whose lumber industry has collapsed?

    So there are these overlapping circles of human drama throughout, and that is stabilizing. Compelling as story. But then there’s Doyle’s experimentation which violates all kinds of novel-writing rules—at least the rules you might read about in a How-To-Write book. His prose is purplish, excessive, and uses stacked up adjectives and nouns, and quotes from William Blake as if its creator is in a nursery, gleefully manipulating building blocks for the naked thrill of seeing how tall he can make them. Punctuation at times goes to hell. Sentences run on and on . . . and on. Narrative threads run the risk of getting lost right up until the end. This stuff careens all over the place and is, I would imagine if it surfaced in a graduate writing seminar, be deemed at minimum as “undisciplined,” or “overwrought.”

    But it’s also quite wonderful, perhaps the poster child of how inspired, visceral writing trumps craft . . . or more accurately, perhaps, becomes its own craft through its own internal logic. Known for his spiritual nonfiction, sometimes overtly Catholic, Doyle has written a work with a beating heart that resonates with the perpetual sea that alternately nuzzles and violates the shore of this struggling, heart-broken town. And in the end, Mink River re-ups the author’s signature. This book will make you swoon with the relentlessness of life—as relentless as the mercurial sea—and the terror of the dark, damp woods. There are moments of awe and exquisite recognition that require that the reader put down the book, and quiet his or her heart. One of these episodes describe a fetus miscarrying from a swimmer in the upper reaches of the Mink and how it flows seaward and, like the personified protoplasm (or, if you’re Catholic, I suppose, like the person that it is) it sees and feels and glories, however briefly, in the wide, wide world before it plunges into the collective unconscious of the wet universe.

    Doyle’s brand may be spiritualized naturalism, admittedly rawer than that of the English romantics’, his rhetorical style one that adds fifteen adjectives or twenty-five nouns in a single, micro description. But structurally, Mink River turns on the author’s periodic “checking in” of his unruly cast. As with the embryo flowing downriver, we get a sort of catalog of what’s going on, the bird’s eye view of what everyone’s doing or thinking at one particular moment. To wit:
    Rain in and on and over and through the town, gentle and persistent, gray and gentle, green and insistent, thorough and quiet, respectful and watchful. On Worried Man and Cedar in the Department of Public Works where they hunch over a table strewn and scattered with maps. On Declan staggering along the beach to the hulk of his boat. On Michael the cop as he drives gently through town humming Puccini and thinking of what to make for dinner for his wife Sara and their girls. On Sara as she spades their garden with the two little girls who are digging as fast and furiously as possible looking for worms because their daddy says if they find fifty worms he will take them fishing tomorrow morning rain or shine. On No Horses walking in the hills, up the old quarry road and through the forest and back along the old quarry road once twice three times. On the young female bear two miles upriver from the village where she found a dead elk calf . . . (p. 141)

    These surveys regularly appear but are themed not just through behavior, but through thoughts, through fears and through prayers and dreams.

    In this way, and in others more subtle, Doyle not only brings you along as every good novelist should, but plumbs the depths of his little site by broadening his canvas again and again. More accurately, he draws a broader and broader diameter of circles out and out, then back in and in until the gumbo—the ennui of the quotidian life, mythologies religious and otherwise, addictions, despair, tragedy, economic survival, sensuality, coitus and how one dies--convincingly converges into a satisfying whole.

    Sort of like life. Sort of not. Like a river town in the northwest where the forest and the sea seem to be having one long, even eternal conversation—sometimes an argument--while the town’s denizens still, somehow, are living rather than just performing a life--thinking about or actually cupping one another’s faces with their hands to comfort and connect in any one moment. And that is, finally, what makes the town of Neawanaka and Mink River so remarkable: it countermands the narcissism of our age, and of our contemporary literature—so that life lived is just that: a life that is lived. Lives reflected in Doyle’s luminous prose through story in its most numinous sense. Story in the form of a novel that merits my thanks.

  6. Sara says:

    Neawanaka is a fictitious town on the Oregon coast, and this book is filled with short chapters/vignettes telling brief interludes about the various residents and their day to day lives.

    If this hadn't been my book club's monthly pick, I probably never have picked up the book and I definitely would not have finished it. I had a very difficult time getting into this, and half the time I felt myself skimming because nothing was happening. The story is definitely more about the town than about any characters themselves or an actual plot, and I could see that being interesting had the town actually come to life properly. But it never did.

    The very first page of the book began well enough, and I liked some of the writing, as the author described what Neawanaka didn't have: No houses crying out to be the cover of a magazine that no one actually reads anyway... No buildings on the National Resister of Hysterical Places, though there are some old houses.... It was a good set up for the book, giving a solid foundation for what the town itself felt like. But as the book went on, the writing seemed to deteriorate - probably because there was nothing to actually say but pages to fill.

    The writing in this book seemed like it was trying to be literary. Some sentences went on and on and on, with so many metaphors or descriptions noted so my eyes glazed over. A prime example is this overly wordy sentence, which I dare anyone to read and not have your eyes glaze over:

    At four in the morning, on All Souls Day, the Day of the Dead, the second of November, the priest winning the betting pool, seven drops of water fell from the sky, headlong, pell-mell, sliding from the brooding mist, and then seventy, and then the gentle deluge, a whisper of wet, a thorough and persistence pittering on leaf mold and newt knuckle, web and wood, tent and cent, house and mouse, the rain splittering the sea, soaking boats, rinsing streets, fluffing owls and wetting towels, sliding along power lines and dripping from eaves, rivuleting and braiding and weaving tiny lines in the thirsty earth, darkening the trunks of trees, jewelling the strands of spiders, sliding along clotheslines, moistening the infinitesimal dust in rain gauges.

    That is one sentence. Where was the editor?!? Other times, sentences were written with repetition - a nice technique, if you know when the stop. Generally repeats are only effective if you list a few things. This author, however, had no problem filling up an entire page with stuff like this:

    [The priest] had anointed men and women and children and infants. He had anointed a boy one day old. He had anointed a boy one hour old. He had anointed three infants he was sure were dead but he couldn't bear to refuse to anoint them before the broke parents. He had anointed a newborn girl with no arms or legs. He had anointed....

    And on and on, each sentence noting someone else he'd anointed. SEVENTEEN SENTENCES worth!

    I should also note that there was no dialogue in this book, per se. People have conversations, but there weren't any quotation marks and instead just listed short sentences, one paragraph at a time, that was supposed to be an exchange, like:

    How'd you meet Grampa?
    We met by the river.
    Did you love him right away?
    I was fascinated, though.
    Was he fascinated too?
    How could you tell?
    I could tell.
    I could tell. You'll see someday.

    I'm not sure if that lack of quotation marks was to make this seem more literary, but none of the dialogue actually seemed authentic and instead simply served as page-fillers. At times, I felt as if the paragraphs in here would be better written as the sort of emo poetry cranked out without rhymes and with half-formed thoughts everywhere. I'll break down a short-ish sentence into one of these poems to demonstrate:

    All day long
    fended off
    with the tools
    but now
    she cups her face
    and sobs
    and sobs

    Actually, turning it into poetry seems to improve it slightly.

    Aside from the book's promising first page, there was little I liked. Some of the characters in the book were decent, while others seemed flimsy. There were a few parts of the book where something actually seemed like it was going to (finally!) happen and I was drawn in: when a resident visited a doctor, or when a policeman tried to secretly communicate his distress to a dispatcher. However, these stories were ultimately glossed over and their resolution never actually shown to the reader - after all, this is a book about the town overall, not about individuals - making these individual tales ultimately forgettable and seemingly pointless.

    I don't know whether there was a deeper point or meaning buried somewhere in the book. If there was, I obviously missed it. I found it difficult to focus on this book because of how disjointed it was and how much the writing meandered. Definitely not a book I'd recommend, but clearly it has its fans, since there are good reviews of this on Goodreads!

  7. Teresa says:

    This is a novel unlike any other I've read before I think, even though for awhile I was reminded of Jon McGregor, especially pertaining to some stylistic tics (e.g., lists and no quotation marks for dialogue), an omniscient viewpoint and at times this view being one of a bird's-eye -- literally, at least in this book.

    A couple of the characters quote William Blake and another reads the Acts of the Apostles, some of his thoughts intermingling, and in a King-James style, as he does. The language is the thing in this almost prose-poem of a novel. I'm not at all surprised that Doyle writes essays, which are at their best when the language sings, and that he writes poems, seeing here his use of alliteration, synonyms, rhymes and lists, which at one point I thought were going to be too much, but the effect that couldn't be achieved otherwise and the flow of the sentences drew me back and kept me there. As with poetry the work works best when it can be read, as much as possible, uninterruptedly.

    So, there's lyricism, there's natural history, there's a sort of magical realism, there are Irish and Salish tales and folklore. (I loved the explanation of the idea of The People.) There's not much plot nor character development, though the characters are interesting and interested me, and what there are of those novelistic elements serve the overarching story, and themes, of this fictional town in Oregon on the coast of the ocean.

  8. Beth says:

    well, now wasn't that delicious?

  9. Julie Christine says:

    How very sublime. Mink River has flowed in and out of my life several times over the years. I've had other copies in my possession; twice they have gone away with friends and never returned. I've known for years how beloved this book is to so many readers and I think I feared that I wouldn't be as captivated, or that I'd even dislike it with the intensity reserved for highly-lauded books that you just don't get, so I kept putting it off.

    A few weeks ago a friend pressed another copy into my hands.You must read this, he assured me. And so at long last I did. And loved it more than I could have imagined.

    Mink River shimmers in the moonlight glow of lore and possibility, in a place that seems to be on the very edge of the world, of reality, even, sometimes, of hope. Doyle presents a hardscrabble logging and fishing village slumping off Oregon's Coastal Range into the Pacific Ocean. It is a wet and whispery place, settled thousands of years ago by indigenous tribes who knew Paradise when it filled their bellies and souls. Now, remnants of those tribes still live in the fictional town of Neawanaka, carving stories into wood, into their children, into the forests and creatures which stand watch over its myriad inhabitants.

    The novel offers up over a dozen characters, including the wise, and wise-cracking, crow Moses, and we come to know and love them all deeply. The narrative is a loosely strung collection of vignettes, tied together by the town, and the characters' daily lives. The plot is a sense of tension over near-future forks in the road some characters face, a few near-disasters, and the reader's hope that all will be resolved with the same sense of tenderness and possibility that Doyle presents in all the preceding pages.

    Brian Doyle died of brain cancer in 2017 at the age of 60. He left a tremendous body of work, volumes of essays and creative non-fiction, short stories, three novels. Mink River found me at last, at just the right moment in time. I look forward to exploring Brian Doyle's legacy of humanity and artistry.

  10. Irene says:

    This is a beautiful book that illustrates what is meant by “grace” and the “sacramentality of the ordinary”. Set in a small coastal town, the stories of several graced characters, of their Native American and Irish ancestors, of the non-human creatures are woven together in a pattern of simple, but stunning beauty. Read aloud, this could easily be mistaken for poetry. At times, I wondered if the characters and place was only an interesting canvas on which the author could paint in language. Depending on the reader, the word play might feel like a showy distraction or might be perceived as exquisite. It was the later for me. Even the use of magical realism, which I usually do not enjoy, worked perfectly in this book. 4.5 stars

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