The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

The Barrowfields

Phillip Lewis

Mesmeric in its prose and mythic in its sweep, The Barrowfields is an extraordinary debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparative power of shared pasts.

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A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction

Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again. 
Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, THE BARROWFIELDS is a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparative power of shared pasts.

– SIBA Okra Pick

Advance Galley Reviews

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis was an interesting novel that did hook me on the first page. It was a good coming of age novel essentially about family. The characters were great and well-written, and the setting was very descriptive. Although, the book was interesting and kept my attention, it was also slow which was hard at times while reading.

Good coming of age story. A novel well worth the time it takes to read. Liked the characters. Beautifully detailed settings and emotions. The book story flows easily. Entertaining and good read. Take time to read his book. Given ARC by First to Read.

I found this novel to be a wonderful coming-of-age story. I loved the characters and the plot. I would highly recommend this book. 5 stars!

I would have loved this book, if this was the type of story I would usually read. I could not get into this book to save my life. Not to say it was bad and I would not tell that to others, but it was just not my type of book.

Beautifully written coming of age story. Four stars! Not a book filled with fast paced action, but a story that looks deep within the family unit. The characters are so well developed that the reader just has to read on, I became committed to them. The settings within the story are so real, one could paint a picture. For me, this book showed the importance of family, all the beautiful and ugly, good and bad, love and hate. This is a unique read. Not for the general audience, as there really is no central story to work around. I also found some of the language difficult, but did not hamper my reading. I definitely could see this book on a college syllubus.

This was a well written coming of age story set against strongly developed imagery of an Appalachian town. Although it took me a little while to get hooked, once I was about a third of the way into the book, I couldn't put it down. I loved the way the author wove the love of books and the impact this had on his life as he works to break away from his roots, go to college and pursue his dreams. But as is often the case, he struggles with his present since he hasn't found a way to make peace with his past. I would recommend this to all.

There's some beautiful language throughout this book, and some beautiful elements to the story. The old house as a character and the devotion to literature and books made for a raw and beautiful reading experience. Unfortunately, I never really forgave the main character for being so passive, so careless in his actions. And because I never got on board with the main character, the main thrust of the story didn't feel great to me. I suppose I'm biased -- he supposedly knows the stars but gets them wrong, and the detailed, painstaking, but incorrect description of the night sky encapsulated the character for me. He was clearly meant to be passionate, but didn't actually get there in any way that meant something to me. And then there's the odd detail that he keeps secret from the reader until the end, clearly misleading the reader for what appears to be no reason at all. I'm not sure this one hit home for me, which is too bad, because there were so many great raw ingredients and I wanted to love it. It's still a good book. It just never reached great for me. I got a free copy to review from First to Read.

The Barrowfields, by Phillip Lewis, grabbed me from the start with the rich descriptions of Appalachian life and the complexities of family, community, and vocation. The novel centers around the lives of a father and son, both named Henry. Henry Sr. grows up in a poor community, but at a young age discovers a love of reading and writing that sets him apart in a community where education is not valued. He struggles to go to college, where he reads voraciously and dreams of becoming a great writer. He falls in love, starts teaching, and has some early success with his writing. Things start to fall apart after he decides to move back home with his wife to care for his aging mother. He takes a job as a lawyer to support his family. He and his wife have two children, and they buy a gothic style mansion that has been long abandoned and is largely isolated from the community. Much of the novel takes place in this house, which gives the novel its gothic flavor. His oldest child, also named Henry, grows up in the same small town, but has educated and idealistic parents who encourage him and his sister in their love of reading and education. The middle part of the book, where Henry Jr. has left home to go to college, is still well written and moving, but lacks some of the atmosphere of the beginning and ending. Young Henry falls in love with a woman with her own troubled past, adopts a dog, and is making a life for himself. However, he avoids his mother and sister and resists going home for summers or holidays. Henry Jr. struggles to find his place in the world while turning his back on the past. Eventually, he decides to move back to the family home (now abandoned) to make peace with his father's legacy and to prepare the house for sale. The last part of the book takes place back in the house on the hill, and shows Henry's struggle to integrate the good and bad of his past into his life now. I loved the author's writing, especially his almost lyrically descriptive style. The dialogue read true, and the characters were dimensional and well drawn. I highly recommend this book.

A novel well worth the time it takes to read. Deep rich breathing characters. Beautifully detailed settings. The book is alive with colors, smells, sounds. Take the time and give this one a read!!!

I was pleased to receive an advance copy of this book to read and review. I found it to be an engaging read with strong characters that showed the struggles and complications of the family structure. As a teacher of English literature I found the style of writing to be beautifully descriptive, though I can see how a more casual reader might find it more difficult to work through. Although it was not a fast paced book for me, I enjoyed slowing down to watch the gradual unfolding of the events of family generations and the impacts on each family member.

This was an enjoyable read. I found the characters somewhat engaging, especially the younger Henry and his sister. The setting of the Appalachians was appropriate for this coming of age story. Life definitely does go on, no matter what has happened or will happen. I did find this novel a little long and sometimes slow going.

I enjoyed this book but it is not one of those shout-out titles that will get a lot of recognition. It is a coming-of-age story, a story of what it means to be family, forgiveness, what it means to love and live life. The setting of Appalachia is very fitting and the setting itself is as strong as any of the characters themselves. The strange architectural abomination that is the home of the narrator is just another instance of a setting being a strong and driving character. The author tells the tale of his father and his father's family. The father rises above the abject poverty that is his lot to become well-versed in the greats of American literature and sets out to write the next great American novel. As with so many artists, the cliche of creativity and madness mingle to be expressed in tragedy that is not revealed until the final pages.

The Barrowfields is told from the point of view of Henry Aster as he takes us through the beginnings of his father (also named Henry) and how his father's disappointments in life have effected his own life. After college, Henry Jr. abandons his sister and decides never to return home. We do not find out why until close to the end of the book. There were a lot of things added to this book that don't seem to play out; an ominous mansion where suspicious murders took place, a young woman with a troubled past, a rescued canine whose heart is as big as his build. There was a lot of time and description given to these items, but it was more to build up the setting and characters, not for any kind of suspense or foreshadowing. While I was impressed with the writing overall, I felt it to be too overwhelming at times. It was heavy handed and it seemed as though you'd need to be a serious literary buff or English major to appreciate it and all the references. In addition, even though I did understand the characters and for the most part, their motivations, I cannot say that I actually really liked any of them. While this was not a home run for me but, I can appreciate what is here and would definitely read another novel by this author.

This is a beautiful coming-of-age story about love and acceptance and coping with the circumstances of your life. Book lovers will appreciate that the main characters are also lovers of books. This was not a fast read for me, until I reached about the halfway point, where the author allows us to enjoy the life of the main character, as he makes his way through college and young adulthood. The story ended a little abruptly, having unwound so gradually, but the message there was meaningful. Thank you to the publishers for allowing me to read an advance copy.

Beautifully written hike through the potholes of family life.

Characters and setting are the focal points of The Barrowfields, the promising debut novel by Phillip Lewis. The plot centers around the theme of parents and children and of children's ability to overcome the scars of their childhood. With beautiful writing, the author conjures up a dark and somewhat Gothic feel of a story-filled old mansion in the middle of 1980s North Carolina. Read my complete review at Reviewed for NetGalley & Penguin First to Read.

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis is his debut novel written with a classic gothic feel. Set mostly in a fictional town of the North Carolina mountains, the novel follows Henry, named after his father, and the sprawling mansion where the ghosts of past and present flow through this coming-of-age story. The characters, emotions and the writing all flowed so well and that makes the pages keep turning. Definitely will keep my eyes out for the next Lewis novel.

Phillip Lewis's literary debut is a triumph that draws you in from the start. Old Buckram comes alive with his excellent use of vocabulary and invites you into the dysfunctional lives of the Asters. Henry Jr.'s tale is an effective bildungsroman, one rife with love, loss, and shortcomings. The mystery of Henry Sr.--whose literary ambition stays a firm presence throughout most of the novel--stays until the very end. I truly enjoyed THE BARROWFIELDS and look forward to recommending it to family and friends upon its release.

This is a story about growing up and overcoming life's challenges. The author is extremely verbose, and the writing style is very reminiscent of V.C. Andrews. There is a lot of beautiful description of scenes, but the author also delves deeply into the characters psyche. Overall, it is an interesting tale. It verges a little on the long side, but i did enjoy it.

Where are we going, you'll be asking Phillip Lewis. Where are you taking your readers on this meandering journey through an isolated backwater? THE BARROWFIELDS is a coming of age tale, relating the awakening of Henry Aster who lives in a bizarre setting that feels a bit Flannery O'Connor-like. There is humour in Mr. Lewis' telling, but a bit of a chuckle is not enough to keep a reader enthralled. The Aster family is dysfunctional in a Southern Gothic sort of way, the father a hard-drinking lawyer with a burning desire to be a writer. Henry is the product of a would-be novelist's attempt to create a writer in his son, and there are more than enough references to obscure literary classics to make the average reader feel as if he or she has fallen into a lecture. We are dragged into MFA-land as the story progresses, with Henry the university student discussing the word count on various fiction genres, and you the reader realize that Mr. Lewis is perhaps more of a short-story writer than a novelist. His prose is extremely pretty, but his ability to tell a coherent story is not fully developed. His attention to his personal craft is fluff that fills space but does not move the narrative. The novel wanders in a way that had me skimming, in search of conflict or a plot point to cling to. The novel's premis is intriguing, but Henry gazes deeply into his navel as he ponders his failure to look after his younger sister as promised after his father leaves the family. Like so many recent works of fiction, the protagonist does not speak to the wider world or the human condition, but focuses quite firmly on a single individual with middle class problems. Pretty prose does not a novel make. This one is worth a glance for the attractive sentences, but is difficult to finish because there isn't much substance behind the facade.

At last, a book I could sink my teeth into! 4.5 The language--such a beautiful read. If this is a debut novel, I cant wait to see what Phillip Lewis does next. Touted as a coming of age story, but so much more. Though most of the book centers around Henry, it must--of necessity--deal with his parents--his extremely damaged father, and his compliant mother. But also, his grandmother, Maddy--sparsely, but beautifully rendered. A dysfunctional family, in a small, poor town in North Carolina, who live in a "haunted" house. But that's just the beginning. Parallels between Henry and his father (also named Henry)--readers, lawyers, lovers of music. And though I'm not a dog person, I loved Buller. I found myself bookmarking numerous phrases and sentences that I found extraordinarily descriptive. Nonetheless, looking back upon them now, they may not render as potent as they did to me upon reading. Perhaps that is a push for why you must read this book for yourself. I couldn't put it down, though not a page turner as such. A few noteworthy sentences/phrases for example: "Maddy had grown colder with the earth, and she seemed determined to heat the world from the inside out." "... my roommate, a tadpole-faced boy from Albany who looked like he'd spent a good deal of time as an infant sleeping on his stomach..." "... she elevated from her wicker throne like a queen and floated there a moment to allow time for our admiration to adhere." "... [nursing home] unmistakable reminiscent of a commercial-grade chicken house in architecture, aroma, and exterior appeal..." "vampiric canines" and "she diminished within my embrace." So, I recommend this book. My only complaint, not quite sure about the ending.

The author is very verbose. The language is very beautifully descriptive and contains impeccable details about everything. I was overwhelmed by the detail so much so that I was constantly distracted. I would feel like I needed to breathe so I would look away for a few minutes then come back and read the same passage over and over. The story line is slow moving and monotonous and I had trouble getting into the story. It felt like it was dragging on and on and took forever to read even one page. Read it when you have absolutely no distractions and have a lot of time to dedicate to a super slow starting book.

This was my 29th book read since January 1st of this year. It sits as tied between first and second favorite. Henry Aster, Sr is the fifth and final child born to a poor family in North Carolina in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Immediately he is known as different because he wants to read any and everything. He talks of going to college but no Aster has ever gone to college. After achieving his dreams and getting out, getting a law degree, and getting married, his Father calls him and insists he return home because his Mom is not doing well. So home he goes. He learns of a house for sale in the side of the mountain for a steal. Bad things have happened there so no one will touch it. He buys it and this is where he will raise Henry, Jr and siblings. Henry, Sr is always writing but that great American novel never comes. He grows increasingly erratic and drinks more and more. He finally leaves, never to return. Now it's Henry, Jrs turn to leave for college and not look back. But will he return home to the small town where nothing ever changes and to the house on the hill? I absolutely loved this book. It is hauntingly beautiful. It really made me think about life and how we cope when all we've lived for doesn't turn out quite like we thought. Also how no matter how we think we can get away from our past and not follow in our parents footsteps, some how we usually do. I can't say enough good things about this book. The prose, the hopes and dreams, but again, it is also a bit depressing. But isn't life depressing sometimes? This was the author's debut book (I believe I read that) and I believe it will be a classic. I will return to this book many times. I have a love of books and just like the Aster's, I never leave home without one. Thank you for allowing me the honor of reading an ARC of this book.

There is a very short list of books belonging on my deserted island: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis has joined that list. Two generations of Aster men struggle with sense of place and familial bonds in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Narrated by Henry Aster the younger, the novel begins with an accounting of his father's childhood and coming-of-age, a complex and humorous account of growing up as an intellectual in a tiny, rearward community. Henry the elder leaves home to attend college and law school intending never to return. He is soon summoned home due to his mother’s illness, procures a ghoulish estate and reluctantly stays to raise a family in the gently maligned Old Buckram. Henry the younger’s childhood is then chronicled with levity and rich detail. His father is observed at first through the rose-colored lens of adolescence and later, inevitable disillusionment, as life in the gothic family manse opens up a warren of rabbit holes. Upon reaching his own age of discretion, Henry leaves Old Buckram and treads a similar educational path. This time the summoning to home comes not from family, but from place, a siren’s call to reconcile the past. All of Lewis’ characters are well-drawn and endearing. The relationship between Henry's father and mother is a wondrous confection of sweet and fractious. (There is one especially memorable scene at the dinner table wherein Henry's father attempts to record the decibel of his wife's mastication, upon which Henry the younger judiciously comments, "You're an idiot".) Family eccentricity is not limited to the elder Aster. Henry the younger has a kid sister, Threnody, uniquely named after a poem their failing-writer of a father once wrote in happier times. Threnody is baby-bird-vulnerable and the fallout of the male Asters soul searching affects her perhaps more than any other character. Maddy the grandmother and Maddy the baby sister both play small, but effectual roles in holding the family together and both Maddys are irresistible. …And then there’s Buller, who wins best-supporting actor in my literary Oscars. Love of literature provides a roadmap for the Aster's on their respective journey towards maturity. Book wisdom threads through these pages like a rich seam of copper, coloring landscape and time. The family's dreary home is Poe-esque in detail, as are the neighboring Barrowfields. The theme of returning home is neatly tied into Thomas Wolfe's "You Can't Go Home Again” and other literary paeans include the naming of the family car (Arthur Radley) and young Henry’s dog (Buller Copernicus). Lewis records the acts of growing up and falling in love with a tender fluency both heartrending and elegant. Monogamous love is rarely encountered in modern fiction these days, and both Henry Asters seek and desire love in perpetuity. The courtship between Henry and Story is especially endearing and unfolds gently with uncommon grace. It is love in its purest form; buttressed by music and astronomy, terrifying in its sweet obsession and small betrayals, and reaffirming in its testament, essentially, restoring our faith in romance. I hope to see this book short-listed on every applicable list this year - I believe it is destined to become a great American classic.

For reasons I am not sure I can explain, I liked this book. There was no drama, there was no suspense, there was no action, but it was written very well that it keeps the reader engaged in the book. At times it seemed to get wordy and caused me to have to re read sentences, but that really helped to enhance the read experience, especially since I am known to speed read and miss pieces of books. I really enjoyed the story of Henry and Story (yes that is her name) but wish the writer would have let us know if they ended up getting married or not (inquiring minds want to know!). Parts of the story that I didn't like, was Henry's treatment of his Mother and Sister after he left for college. I felt myself being angry for him shutting them out and and not keeping up his relationship with them after he left for college. The one character I found myself not really understanding was Henry's father, while he is a main character of the book I struggle with him and his eccentric ways. This however, is part of why I was drawn into the story.

Set in a rural town in the Appalachian Mountains,The Barrowfields is a melancholy yet interesting debut by Phillip Lewis. After tragedy strikes their family, young Henry Aster reminisces about his father, also named Henry, who managed to leave his rural roots only to return with his pregnant wife, Eleonore, when his mother’s health begins to fail. Henry Sr is a prodigious reader with dreams of writing of his own novel and works as a lawyer to support his family. After winning a lucrative case, he purchases a rather spooky house that overlooks the town where he works on his novel while drinking heavily. Following a tragic loss, young Henry eventually follows in his father’s footsteps as he leaves for college only to eventually return to his birthplace where he must finally come to terms with the events that occurred before striking out on his own. The flashbacks from Henry Jr about his childhood offer a somewhat bleak portrait of his rather dysfunctional family. Henry Sr spends night after night writing his novel and drinking which leaves Henry Jr. taking on paternal duties with his much younger sister Threnody. Most of Henry’s reminiscences focus on his dad with only passing mention of his mom, Eleonore, who is apparently quite devoted to her husband. After Henry’s paternal grandmother passes away, Henry’s family undergoes a few changes that end in tragedy and culminate with Henry Sr.’s continued downward spiral. The pacing of the novel picks up when Henry Jr goes to college where he also goes on to law school. He spends a lot of his time drinking and mooning over Story, the young woman who has stolen his heart. However, Story has her own drama to contend with but Henry is a willing participant in her quest to attain answers that no one is willing to give. It is not until Henry returns to face his own past that he figures out the truth she has searching for. In the process of coming to terms with his family’s history, Henry attempts to repair his long fractured relationship with Threnody. Although a bit slow paced, The Barrowfields is an imaginative debut novel. Phillip Lewis brings the setting vibrantly to life and it is quite easy to visualize the rural town and its inhabitants. The characters are richly developed and life-like with all too human frailties and foibles. An atmospheric coming of age novel that leaves readers hopeful Henry Jr and Threnody will find a way to avoid repeating the mistakes that took their father down a somewhat dark path.

When I first began to read this novel, I spent a lot of time simply admiring the prose and the detailed story being cultivated. At the same time, I wondered where exactly the author was going to go with this novel. In the beginning, I was unsure about how I felt about the story's progression. But all of that changed as the story continued. Told from the perspective of Henry Aster Jr., this story shows how his family's past haunts him even as he distances himself from his childhood. We see Henry as he attempts to make friends, and become an individual in his own right ... all while he ends up following the exact same route as his father. We watch as he falls in and out of love, deals with his anger and guilt over his father's betrayal. By the time I got to the final chapter of this story, I was mesmerized - not only by the prose but also by Henry himself. We see how family can shape you, can drive you away, can bring out the best and the worst out of you. This novel made me think and it definitely made me feel. I'm finding it difficult to articulate my thoughts and feelings, because there are just so many! This novel made me reflect on my own relationships with my family and my friends, and it made me reflect on how these interactions have shaped me into the person I am today and the person I will become in the future. This is a wonderful debut novel, and I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys literary fiction! Thank you to Penguin Random House and the publisher for this advanced review copy, in exchange for my honest review.

The Barrowfields is a brilliant modern Southern gothic style novel about the literary Aster family. It includes the requisite spooky house on the hill and all the florid detail you'd expect. There is the tragic hero tortured by his own brilliance and perceived inadequacy who ultimately abandons his family. There are hints of generational suffering of some unnamed curse (could it be alcoholism?). Absolutely exquisitely written and emotionally impactful I think this book may find a home alongside the beloved American Southern novelists. My one complaint is that you need a dictionary nearby to read it. I have a pretty prodigious vocabulary that is put to shame by Mr. Lewis.

When I first started reading this book, I didn't think I would like it. It was hard to get into at first, but once I got into the book, I loved it. You can't help but like Henry and I just loved the Henry/Story storyline! I felt sorry for Henry and his sister for the childhood they had with a father who eventually leaves his wife and family after a family tragedy. At times, the author can get a little too descriptive and I didn't know any of the music that was referenced. I was a little disappointed at the ending but we did get to find out what happened to his father. I would definitely recommend this book and I gave it 4 stars. It's a must read for everyone!

This novel is very good. Written in the vein of T. R. Pearson and David Payne, with a bit of Robert McCammon; it is a rich, beautifully written southern novel. The writing is incredibly detailed and I had to look up quite a few words; I also googled musical references to listen as I read; all added to a sense of time and place. Lewis is a gifted writer and I cannot wait for for his next offering.

I really enjoyed the novel that was crafted by Mr Lewis. The book went from one generation to the next while creating an intrigue to find out what had happened to the father. The book came full circle when the son decided to finally return home and face the pain that the loss of his father left.

"I'm sad to report that I have no self-control. I'm sitting in my car - outside your house." I received a copy of this ebook from in exchange for an honest review. While there are interesting stories in this book, they don't all fit together as smoothly as I'd like. There seem to be some gaps between some parts that are rough transitions. I enjoyed the novel within the novel, but then the story goes in a very different direction that borders on manic-pixie-dream-girl territory. There's a lot of emotional depth and some interesting reveals. It's an ambitious story that reads well but tries to do a lot in one story. This book has interesting thoughts on love and family, but it did drag in a few places.

I loved this book!!!!

This is a brilliant debut novel that tells a multi-generational story about a family. I'm still reeling from all the emotions it made me feel.You can trace the family dysfunction from through each generation. It definitely provokes commentary about child rearing and family life. Lewis' use of Henry as a narrator tugs at your heart so much at times you want to put the book down. The trouble is you keep picking it back up because you want to know what happens. There are a couple of twists in the story that don't necessarily knock your socks off, but they do answer questions that brew as soon as you're in the story. In the end, this was a great read and I could see myself re-reading again and again.This is a beautiful story from beginning to end.

Home is a place you can be drawn to and driven away from, depending on the memories that surround it. For the Aster men in The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis, they experience things that compel them to leave home as well as things that bring them back. Henry Aster grew up in the small mountain town where his father, also named Henry, was born and raised but left to get an education in literature and law before ultimately returning with his wife. Henry spent much of his childhood on the floor near his father's writing desk, surrounded my the many books his father had read and collected over the years. After some family tragedy, Henry's father begins to unravel, leaving Henry to be responsible for helping to raise his younger sister when his father disappears. Once Henry is able to leave for college, he too leaves, but although he promises to come back, he finds it near impossible to return home and keep his promise to look after his sister. When he finally is able to face his home, he is also confronted with things from his past he'd rather forget. There was a lot going on in this story as it created a larger narrative, where most of it worked and some of it didn't quite fit or flow with the rest of the tale. There were parallels between Henry the father and Henry the son where the son seemed fated to repeat the experiences of the father despite having the opportunity to learn from the father's successes and failures (and I'm happy with the outcome of this particular thread). The character called Story added a new layer to Henry the son's story to prevent him from falling into the same actions that would complete the cycle in making him the same as his father, as she helped to propel Henry to come to terms with his past as it has been haunting his life. Overall, I'd give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

For those who like books that are more than junk food, who want to say proudly they read at least one that could be classified as ‘the great American novel’, this is one that should be added to your MUST READ LIST. Phillip Lewis writes not just with words but in a beautiful prose that lets you drift off to a different world. It’s not a book you want to speed through or with tons of noise around or you will miss something and not get the full experience. It must be read slowly and savored like a fine wine with classical music in front of a fire. It’s such a beautiful novel full of depth about family and it’s written on such an intelligent level with just enough humor thrown in to take the edge off. The descriptions of the scenery makes you feel like you could be looking at cinematic oil paintings. I highly recommend looking up some of the music referenced within the pages because it will add this whole level of immersion to make it an unforgettable experience. I can see this ending up on college and/or high school AP reading lists for English Lit classes. It just seems incredible this came from a debut author, he has set the bar astronomically high for himself for his follow-up but I’m looking forward to the attempt.


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