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Enchanted Night

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From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Martin Dressler comes a stunningly original new book set in a Connecticut town over one incredible summer night. The delicious cast of characters includes a band of teenage girls who break into homes and simply leave notes reading "We Are Your Daughters," a young woman who meets a phantom lover on the tree swing in her back yard, a beautiful mannequin who steps down from her department store window, and all the dolls "no longer believed in," left abandoned in the attic, who magically come to life.

With each new book, Steven Millhauser radically stretches not only the limits of fiction but also of his seemingly limitless abilities. Enchanted Night is a remarkable piece of fiction, a compact tale of loneliness and desire that is as hypnotic and rich as the language Millhauser uses to weave it.

144 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1999

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About the author

Steven Millhauser

57 books417 followers
Millhauser was born in New York City, grew up in Connecticut, and earned a B.A. from Columbia University in 1965. He then pursued a doctorate in English at Brown University. He never completed his dissertation but wrote parts of Edwin Mullhouse and From the Realm of Morpheus in two separate stays at Brown. Between times at the university, he wrote Portrait of a Romantic at his parents' house in Connecticut. His story "The Invention of Robert Herendeen" (in The Barnum Museum) features a failed student who has moved back in with his parents; the story is loosely based on this period of Millhauser's life.

Until the Pulitzer Prize, Millhauser was best known for his 1972 debut novel, Edwin Mullhouse. This novel, about a precocious writer whose career ends abruptly with his death at age eleven, features the fictional Jeffrey Cartwright playing Boswell to Edwin's Johnson. Edwin Mullhouse brought critical acclaim, and Millhauser followed with a second novel, Portrait of a Romantic, in 1977, and his first collection of short stories, In The Penny Arcade, in 1986.

Possibly the most well-known of his short stories is "Eisenheim the Illusionist" (published in "The Barnum Museum"), based on a pseudo-mythical tale of a magician who stunned audiences in Vienna in the latter part of the 19th century. It was made into the film, The Illusionist (2006).

Millhauser's stories often treat fantasy themes in a manner reminiscent of Poe or Borges, with a distinctively American voice. As critic Russell Potter has noted, "in (Millhauser's stories), mechanical cowboys at penny arcades come to life; curious amusement parks, museums, or catacombs beckon with secret passageways and walking automata; dreamers dream and children fly out their windows at night on magic carpets."

Millhauser's collections of stories continued with The Barnum Museum (1990), Little Kingdoms (1993), and The Knife Thrower and Other Stories (1998). The unexpected success of Martin Dressler in 1997 brought Millhauser increased attention. Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories made the New York Times Book Review list of "10 Best Books of 2008".

Millhauser lives in Saratoga Springs, New York and teaches at Skidmore College.

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5 stars
227 (24%)
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305 (32%)
3 stars
278 (29%)
2 stars
94 (10%)
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28 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 124 reviews
Profile Image for Mir.
4,868 reviews5,034 followers
January 26, 2015

This was published a while ago, but still Millhauser was older than most of the characters he creates, and it shows in the point of view, particularly in regards to all the young women. They think like old women gazing back nostalgically at the wilder days, more romantic nights of their youths (and forgetting the angst and heartbreak that accompanied them).
Oh god, she's having wild thoughts, dream thoughts under the summer moon . She can feel the night working through her, she is a daughter of the night and the moon and her hair is streaming in the branches of the trees and her breath is the night sky.

I am not as young as Janet, but closer than the author is, and I can tell you no one thinks like this when they are twenty and making out with a hot guy in a thicket. Likewise I don't think most teen boys sit around thinking abstractly about how they would feel grateful and deeply moved if any girl let them have a feel.

Perhaps the his tone of elderly backward-looking is deliberate and I am missing the point of why it is employed, but it contrasts oddly with the sense of immediacy that the descriptions otherwise arouse, the restless young people and the dissatisfied loners (loners are all dissatisfied and lacking here, there is no possibility that one might be happy alone) wandering out into the night looking for -- what? Called by something, the moon stirring their blood, the panpipes which only the children hear.

I thought that was one of the weakest sections, by the way, the kids all at once going out to play in the dark and meeting Pan. It was so brief, nothing was done with it, even less than the moving toys section. And the mannequin... In fact, I think the book might have been better without any of the whimsical supernatural elements. The pervs and drunks and eccentric old ladies felt a lot more real than Columbine and that fucking twee unloved teddy bear.

However, I did in many places think the prose was very fine, especially when Millhauser is not trying to talk from anyone's point of view. He definitely has a strong rhythmic quality. My favorite sections were the recurring Chorus of Night Voices, which are strongly allusive of classical literature.
Hail, goddess, bright one, shining one: release him from confusion. Lighten his burden, banish his darkness: teach the sleeping heart to wake. Hail, goddess, night-enchantress: show the lost one the way.

I might try Millhauser again. I might not. I'm not very interested in reading fiction without characters. Anyone have a recommendation of a book of his that has character development?
Profile Image for Frederic S..
Author 17 books88 followers
January 19, 2012
This is one of the great ones. It's on my small shelf of favorite books, and it's one I recommend to friends at every opportunity. I first discovered it in Tokyo's Kinokuniya Bookstore when it must have been newly-released. There it was -- that beautiful cover that draws you in and makes you at once curious and nostalgic. I've never seen a cover better-suited to the content of the book it embraces. Here, before our eyes, is a summer night in all its haunting mystery and swift-fleeting magic. All too soon the moon will set; but before it does, here are the dark corners of a town, here are the intersecting lines of human lives, all waiting to be explored. Millhauser is a virtuoso of language and style. I want to be him when I grow up. I have some pens that write with a shimmery, silvery, light-blue ink; on the deep midnight blue of the inside cover, I inscribed with one the time and place I began and finished the book. I have two rituals connected with it: one, I have only ever read it during the hottest season of the year. I would suggest reading it in late July or early August (unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere). Two, it MUST be read in the dark hours, preferably when the moon rides the sky. If I were to read this book by the light of the sun, I honestly think it might disintegrate. That's what a thing of enchantment and mystery it is. So, yes -- this one comes with my highest recommendation. It's one you won't forget. It's one you'll want to revisit summer after summer, because there's no end to its wistfulness and beauty.
Profile Image for Jeremiah Seyrak.
Author 1 book17 followers
August 17, 2019
As a novella, it is quite good to see how he brings to life some interesting characters in such a small space.
Profile Image for Alan.
Author 11 books167 followers
February 9, 2012
review coming (I hope, time short)...

suitably dreamy and poetic, the choruses giving it music and rhythm, all the citizens are touched by magic, the manikin that comes alive for one bloke; another has a phantom lover. Gentle: there isn’t any evil here – mischief yes, the girls who burgle silently and re-arrange the furniture rather than steal, the boys who break into the library, the man who stalks the woman/is a voyeur..

..all murmur in your ear and the whole becomes thoroughly delightful, light and beautiful. Did I miss the gutsy forces of bad, a bit of conflict? No,a dimension missing but not missed.

I thought of course of Midsummer Night’s Dream; of a lighter and dreamier Winnesburg Ohio (in that it features people from the same town I suppose, and the small chapters).
Profile Image for Virginia Aikens.
135 reviews
June 28, 2016
I make an attempt to read this book at least once every summer. I look for a clear night with a full moon, and if possible sit outside to read.

This book is filled to the brim with beautiful, eerie imagery, and the flow and tone of Millhauser's prose leaves me joyful, sad, creeped out, and quietly happy every time I read it. Fantastic word pictures that often feel like poetry. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys vivid imagery and bittersweet nostalgia. It will make you long for a past that you may (or may not) have experienced.
Profile Image for Tim.
510 reviews22 followers
March 28, 2017
I have encountered pieces by this writer that I liked, but this was not one of them, sorry to say. I listened to an audio version read by Stefan Rudnicki, that had some appropriate musical accompaniment. In this dreamy novella, we encounter a number of characters who wander the streets of a Connecticut town on a moonlit summer night. The mysterious feeling of such nights is captured well in the prose, but there is not much of a story line, and the characters range from being fairly interesting to being virtually non-existent, or not even human, as in the case of the mannequins who do a little moving around. There are two lonely regular joes (Haverstraw and Coop), and I couldn't help wonder why there were two such similar characters hanging around, but not interacting with each other. One manly guy does some boasting to his buddy about encounters with women and the like. There is a group of teenage girls who slip into houses and rearrange things and leave little notes - they have cute names like Summer Storm and Fast Lane. There are a couple of romantic encounters with phantom/imaginary lovers, but none that involve real people. A tired, uninspiring sexuality is frequently present. It all seems kind of pointless, unless Millhauser's point was that there is a solitude that lurks in those mysterious summer nights.
Profile Image for Amy (Other Amy).
455 reviews89 followers
December 5, 2021
The lovers and loners are therefore very much aware of each other, but it is difficult to know what they are thinking. Are the lovers grateful to the loners for making them feel fortunate? Do they perhaps envy the loners their night freedom, far from the demands and desires of another creature? As for the loners, it’s easy to imagine that they are irritated by the lovers, who remind them of their loneliness, and who invade the beach as if to take over the last preserve of the solitary wanderer. It’s possible of course that the loners, for reasons obscure to them, have come to the beach precisely because they know that the lovers will be here, on this warm summer night.

This loner would mostly like the lovers to consider that not every damn thing is about love or sex or both, or, failing that, to kindly shut up. I'm probably cranky though. Here lately I'm not having the best time revisiting authors whose work I loved the first time around. (And I absolutely did love The Knife Thrower and Other Stories.) That said, I freely admit that if Mr. Millhauser had cut out half the plotlines in the book (specifically the ones about young people) and had just focused only on his older characters, this would have been a five star read easy. OR if he had let the Moon . I don't know. Like I said, I am cranky. This missed the mark with me rather badly, is all.
Profile Image for Jordan.
23 reviews
June 29, 2022
This would be whimsical and dreamy if it weren’t for the creepy caricatures of young girls
Profile Image for R..
905 reviews113 followers
June 18, 2015
Do summer nights like this still exist? I'd like to think they do, for some people, somewhere, under certain circumstances. Magic moonlit nights, where you become nothing more than a gallivanting shadow on the periphery of another night-wanderer's vision, your thoughts of your past animated into a walking and talking supporting character in its own right, a manmade Memorex-man called into being, a golem scooped (ice cream scoops) together from the clay of dreams (clay from Morpheus' own riverbed) that gallivants equally grumpy and glad on the periphery of your vision.

Nights where you bump into people. Where people are the things that go bump in the night. Or not. Nights where the moonlit shadows of trees are the spontaneously generated architecture of a private temple, where you can get away from it all, get away from everybody, get away from yourself and wear a mask made of holepunched leaves. Everyone deserves to be a forgotten god of nature cavorting in the shadows, on the periphery, now and then, or at least once or twice in their lifetimes.

I think those kinds of summer nights, where everyone is awake and lost in thought and memory, or making adventures, small adventures, yes, but adventures all the same, are rare, now. Nowdays, if a body can't sleep, she can just binge-watch a cooking show or scroll through the internet until dawn. Go outside? Dangerous this time of night! Undress in the woods? Not only asking for trouble, but praying for it!

This novella often errs on the side of song rather than sense, the occasional "fuck" and "cunt" rips you violently right out of the enchantment, and Millhauser seems to take a Nabokovian delight in the bodies of young women but, still, this book works its charms and will undoubtedly reap rewards with repeated readings. It's a time capsule that encapsulates a time not so much lost to technology but abandoned out of fear. Fear of the American night (our pioneer blood, our immigrant blood, has been diluted), fear of other people in the night (unless they're online and anonymous and far, far away), fear of getting caught (or not getting caught, not being seen being adventurous, so why bother?)

All this fear, all this fear shit, it has taken its toll.


So take back the night.
Profile Image for Jeremy.
88 reviews4 followers
January 18, 2010
A friend of mine recently asked me, "What is experimental fiction?" and I had to admit I had no coherent conception of it.

I could've been a Kerouac-type jackoff, and said that, "Man, every time we sit down in front of our blank pages and fill them with our dreams of the self and the world and...pfffffffft, yatta...we're engaging in ann experiment," but while that's not precisely untrue, it's still bullshit.

Anyway, maybe this Millhauser fellow is engaging in a form of experimental fiction.

The book is a collection of very brief vignettes, floridly rendered to the point where I want to call them prose-poems, but am not irritated. The vignettes are loosely knotted into a set of separate plots, all of which resolve coherently.

But everything that happens (mannequin comes to life; faun entices children to the woods with his flute; the moon goddess descends upon and makes love to a sleeping adolescent; a charming "gang" of masked teenage girls keep company with a woman on the brink of solitude-madness; etc) seems of a piece with a reliably collective consciousness. And it's written in such a way that one never finds himself at a loss as to what's happening and why.

Profile Image for Vincent Desjardins.
231 reviews24 followers
January 25, 2010
Millhauser has a way of drawing a reader into his stories by turning the details of everyday life into something extraordinary. In this bewitching novella he suffuses his cast of wanderers, loners, lovers and dreamers with the radiant light of the moon. On a warm summer night, etched in moonlight, lovers are united, loners are befriended, dolls are awakened, children are entranced and mischief makers are surprised All are caressed and in someway transformed by the magical glow of the moon. It is a night of passions played out and of remarkable awakenings. A wonderful and poetic fairy tale for grown-ups.
Profile Image for Chazzbot.
255 reviews20 followers
February 12, 2011
Millhauser's novella is highly reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's work, particularly "Dandelion Wine." This story reads like a version of Bradbury for adults, or for the adult versions of Bradbury's characters. Millhauser also evokes epic poetry, particularly in the fantasy sequences involving the Moon Goddess: "Heart-stirred she rests, the goddess sharp-wounded." The novella serves as an American story of magic realism, and the brief chapters reward multiple readings, particularly as the titular evening progresses. This is an engaging work of modern adult fantasy.
Profile Image for Brendan Ford.
32 reviews2 followers
January 31, 2023
Read this five years ago now, but I still find myself thinking of it often. My favorite kind of book. The one you think you're done with but isn't quite done with you.
Profile Image for La testa fra i libri.
676 reviews29 followers
April 4, 2022
Uno dei miei ricordi preferiti dell’infanzia è il momento di andare a letto. Mia madre ci accompagnava cantando Quando è l’ora di fare la nanna e, se io e miei fratelli non eravamo ancora nel mondo dei sogni, ci raccontava le incredibili storie dell’omino piccino picciò. Mio padre, invece, ci leggeva il libro Cuore. Quando sono diventata mamma non mancava una sera che non leggessi una storia a mio figlio e, sinceramente, ora che è grande mi mancano quei momenti.

Leggendo La notte dell’incanto ho avuto la sensazione di tornare indietro nel tempo e, qui di seguito, vi elenco i cinque motivi per leggere questo libro per voi stessi o a qualcuno.

1° motivo: lo stile narrativo. Il tipo di narrazione di Steven Millhauser è da fiaba e spesso mi sono immaginata a leggere diverse storie presenti nel libro, come se le stessi leggendo ad alta voce a mio figlio. La fluidità del testo è data dall’uso intelligente delle parole che ampliano un concetto e dal riconoscibile collegamento che lega i diversi personaggi delle storie. Le stesse ruotano tutte attorno a una piccola cittadina del Connecticut, alcune sono molto brevi mentre altre no, ci sono personaggi più misteriosi rispetto ad altri e la notte coccola tutto quanto.

2° motivo: il confine fra reale e fantasia. Ci sono storie talmente incredibili che rompono il confine che divide fra il reale e la fantasia. Sembra quasi di vivere un sogno e, secondo quanto dichiarato dall’autore, l’intenzione di scrivere qualcosa come Sogno di una notte di mezza estate, credo che sia ben riuscito.

3° motivo: la consapevolezza. C’è una sorta di consapevolezza che aumenta durante la lettura e mi ha fatto prendere coscienza che, in ogni caso, ognuno di noi fa parte di un tutto più grande.

4° motivo: le figure retoriche. L’autore utilizza artifici del discorso per creare un effetto narrativo che spesso e volentieri incanta e, alcune volte, ho avuto la percezione che diventasse anche evocativo.

5° motivo: qualcosa di diverso. Le storie narrate da Steven Millhauser non sono le solite né tanto meno prevedibili. C’è una forma narrativa che a volte è come se buttasse l’amo lasciando libero spazio alla fantasia di chi la legge, mentre in altre prende per mano.
Profile Image for Morgan Chavez.
130 reviews
April 23, 2023
I'll say 2.5 because I didn't hate it and there were some parts that were nice to read but mostly it kind of fell flat. I kind of feel like millhauser read a midsummer nights dream and said "let me try that" but the modern-day, real-life elements kind of diluted the idea. The concept of the book was so intriguing to me because I loved the idea of like a moonlit summer night's fever dream come to life, but the only story that I felt portrayed that properly was the one with the lovers in the spruces. Like the idea that daylight might steal whatever happens in the night from reality and trying to savor it. I get that. This also felt oddly sexually charged when it didn't need to be at times and soooo hyperfixated on moonlight (which again, I like the sentiment of that but it was too overt, like more subtlety would be nice) anyway! I like the inquiry into what happens when the world sleeps and the dreamers walk the streets, but I think it could've had better delivery.
Profile Image for gałganzbagien.
614 reviews
April 11, 2023
3,5 ⭐

Przeczytane to zostało z dwóch powodów:
1. Pojawiło się w zapowiedzi do comebacku Billlie (stan them for clean skin + qEnchanted Night to bop).
2. Okładka >>>

Ogólnie to mi się podobało, ale ten realizm magiczny chyba mnie za bardzo przygniótł. Dodatkowo czytałam po angielsku, bo tej książki na polski nie przełożył nikt i już raczej nie przełoży.

Jest naprawdę osobliwa, ale dosyć prosta w zamyśle. Także ten... Polecam i nie polecam jednocześnie.
Profile Image for Spencer Fancutt.
252 reviews8 followers
January 26, 2018
A whispered set-piece of moonlit magic. Anything can happen when the daylight suburban residents are taken over by the power of a balmy, fantastical night, letting desire and longing take as many forms as midnight shadows thrown.
Profile Image for Laura.
76 reviews
April 9, 2022
Molto delicato e poetico. Direi onirico.
Vari personaggi uniti da un unico filo conduttore: la luna piena di una notte d'estate.
Profile Image for Glen Schroeder.
56 reviews1 follower
March 14, 2023
"Come out, come out, wherever you are, you dreamers and drowners, you loafers and losers, you shadow-seekers and orphans of the sun. Come out, come out, you flops and fizzlers, you good-for-nothings and you down-and-outers, day's outcasts, dark's little darlin's. Come on, all you who are misbegotten and woebegone, all you with black thoughts and red fever-visions, come on, you small-town Ishmaels with your sad blue eyes, you plain Janes and hard-luck guys, come, you gripers and groaners, you goners and loners, you sad-sacks and shlemiels, come on, come on, you pale romantics and pie-eyed Palookas, you has-beens and never-will-bes, you sun-mocked and day-doomed denizens of the dark: come out into the night."
Profile Image for Scott W..
14 reviews1 follower
April 4, 2021
I've taught this book and read it for pleasure, multiple times. It's short, not a novella as much as a set of vignettes that sometimes act as prose poems or, in a few cases, as poems. One night in an unnamed and hard-t0-locate American town: could be midwestern, or western, or eastern, though it didn't feel southern, I'll say that. Kids sneak out of upper-floor bedrooms to rendezvous with lovers; mannequins come to life; a gang of girls breaks into homes simply to sit and occupy them for a bit; a backyard swing becomes a (figurative) portal to another world; etc. The moon is full and exerts a powerful influence.

At a basic level, this is like a novel made of a set of Millhauserian short stories--as if the self-contained worlds of the stories in The Knife Thrower or Dangerous Laughter had all come together in one place and time. (Indeed, many of the plots/themes/characters in Enchanted Night hew very closely to those in Millhauser's other works.) But the whole thing is a little more gauzy, more benign (mostly), more magical than the rest of Millhauser's oeuvre. The closest analogue I can think of is Ray Bradbury, especially Dandelion Wine, though that book is a full degree more elegiac, more bittersweet, more backwards-looking. To love Enchanted Night, I think that you have to be a sucker for this kind of situation--out at night, in summer, in a place that is otherwise safe, the light playing tricks, the world quiet, the windows dark but a few night owls. As I am a sucker for that kind of situation, I am in the tank for this amazing book.
Profile Image for Kyle.
200 reviews
January 21, 2019
Well I liked this book! A beautifully written book about a magical summer evening that interweaves a small collection of narratives into a beautiful, warm enveloping tapestry. The writing is top notch and it's a breeze to read. You can finish it in one night probably (ideally a warm summer night as if you read this in the winter like I did it will fill you with tremendous longing).

I do see the incredibly problematic things though that gunked up the gears for other readers. The way women (especially one **14-year-old** girl) are portrayed can be read as Male Gaze 101. I think reading into it as lurid, misreads Millhausers attempt to evoke the feelings of a summer night as titillating when I feel he was going for more mythical. Still it's splitting hairs really.

I would say read the book and make up your mind for yourself. I liked it and what it was going for and really enjoyed it but I wouldn't guarantee that same level of enjoyment for others.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
844 reviews14 followers
March 26, 2017
Experimental Fiction/ Flash Fiction. Snippets of Character sketches. An odd combination of The Spoon River Anthology ( only no one is dead) , meets Seinfeld, Woody Allen, William Faulkner and a tad of Benny Hill perversion blended in tiny spaces sporadically tossed about. I Loved it. But warning, if you can't stand the song "Ellionore Rigby" by the Beatles or the movie The Waking Life then this little gem is not for you. It is for , we the unusual. The lonely who are just fine being that way. With several characters around the town who can't stay indoors one more minute due to varying circumstances or emotions. Great Book for those who can relate and short enough to get through in one sitting. One to re read again in future.
Profile Image for C.
210 reviews30 followers
October 10, 2010
Man this book is stupid. The prose at a couple points was okay but they were pretty rare. I'm too lazy to write my own review so just read these negatives from Amanda's down there:

"There are, I admit, many negatives to this book which should make me dislike it. I don't really like the vignette style. There were far too many characters for such a short book. There is no climax, no action, no overarching plot, no real fiction form, actually, and no resolution (in fact, nothing to resolve, really)."
Profile Image for Steve Horowitt.
176 reviews5 followers
October 25, 2012
Even though I gave this three stars, it is due more to the novella nature of this book than the actual writing. Steven Millhauser has long been a favorite, and this book does not disappoint. Imagine, for two hours, being transported to an evening in a small coastal Connecticut town, where a full moon on a warm summer eve, makes everything is possible. Intimacy flourishes in the shadows, a collection of dolls come to life and even a down on his luck guy, gets a break...even if just for a while. I loved the escape.
Profile Image for Emi Yoshida.
1,494 reviews85 followers
March 22, 2017
Enchanted Night takes place in a small town in Connecticut filled with restless characters, milling about in the small hours, under the bright light of a full moon. Some of the wanderers are flesh and blood: virginal 14-yr old Laura, Danny who works in the library and his bad influence friends, 39-yr old hermit Haverstraw and his elderly confidant... and some are brought to life as if under a spell - cast-off dolls, a come-hither mannequin, children following a Pan of sorts... It's ridiculous how much goes on, and comes together, in this small but mighty novella.
Profile Image for Megan Baker.
26 reviews3 followers
September 14, 2019
Reading Enchanted Night is like falling into a lovely strange dream.

For lack of better words..... this book is a vibe.
It feels magical, whimsical. Kind of like Big Fish meets one night in a small town in the 60s.
Profile Image for Bill.
308 reviews312 followers
September 1, 2010
wonderful novella about a magical night somewhere in connecticut, where dolls and mannequins come alive and people do strange things.beautifully lyrical writing.
Profile Image for John Funderburg.
558 reviews1 follower
December 31, 2019
My second read through. Still one of my favorite novellas by one of my favorite authors. Millhauser's prose sings, and his ideas are bafflingly good.
Profile Image for Sam.
8 reviews
June 1, 2023
deducting a star for “love-lance”
Displaying 1 - 30 of 124 reviews

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