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The Resurrection of Joan Ashby: A Novel

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby: A Novel

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The Resurrection of Joan Ashby: A Novel

4.5/5 (12 évaluations)
709 pages
12 heures
Aug 29, 2017


Longlisted for 2019 International DUBLIN Literary Award
Longlisted for 2018 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction
Kirkus Reviews’s Best Fiction of 2017
Kirkus Reviews’s Best Debut Novels of 2017
Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels: 2017
The New York Times Book Review’s Editors’ Choice
Indie Next Pick for September 2017
Kirkus Reviews’s 13 Fiction Debuts & Breakthroughs That Live Up to the Hype
Bustle’s 9 Fall Book Debuts By Women You’re Going To Want To Read Immediately
Nantucket Magazine’s 7 for September 2017
Kirkus Reviews
’s 9 Excellent Reads for Labor Day Weekend
Entertainment Weekly’s Thirteen Books to Read in August
San Diego Magazine
’s Your Book Shelf: 5 Books to Read in August

“[A] stunning debut...reminds me of my most favorite authors: J.D. Salinger, Carson McCullers, Truman Capote, Joan Didion.” —A.M. Homes

I viewed the consumptive nature of love as a threat to serious women. But the wonderful man I just married believes as I do—work is paramount, absolutely no children—and now love seems to me quite marvelous.

These words are spoken to a rapturous audience by Joan Ashby, a brilliant and intense literary sensation acclaimed for her explosively dark and singular stories.

When Joan finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, she is stunned by Martin’s delight, his instant betrayal of their pact. She makes a fateful, selfless decision then, to embrace her unintentional family.

Challenged by raising two precocious sons, it is decades before she finally completes her masterpiece novel. Poised to reclaim the spotlight, to resume the intended life she gave up for love, a betrayal of Shakespearean proportion forces her to question every choice she has made.

Epic, propulsive, incredibly ambitious, and dazzlingly written, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is a story about sacrifice and motherhood, the burdens of expectation and genius. Cherise Wolas’s gorgeous debut introduces an indelible heroine candid about her struggles and unapologetic in her ambition.

Aug 29, 2017

À propos de l'auteur

Cherise Wolas’s acclaimed first novel, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and a semi-finalist for the 2018 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction. A native of Los Angeles, she lives in New York City with her husband. The Family Tabor is her second novel.

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Aperçu du livre

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby - Cherise Wolas


Part I


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Joan Ashby was frank with Martin Manning right from the start: There are two things you should know about me. Number one: My writing will always come first. Number two: Children are not on the table. I possess no need, primal or otherwise, for motherhood.

Martin had grinned, looked beneath the checked tablecloth—In case those imps you don’t want are hiding—then checked what remained in her wineglass. I’m flattered, he said, but isn’t this sort of discussion premature?

She had vigorously shaken her head. Truth is never premature. I don’t want to mislead you.

When it was no longer too early for that sort of discussion, when they had acknowledged the seriousness of their love, when Joan had reiterated those two truths about herself twice more—in Battery Park, staring out at the Statue of Liberty, all green and distant, the waves churning in a spring wind, and on a bench in Central Park, reading the Sunday paper, both of them sweating in the humid hundred-degree heat—Martin never hesitated, always answered the same way.

Once, he raised her concerns himself. With both hands over his heart, Martin declared, My own life plans don’t require a version of myself writ small. I don’t need anything more, except for whatever time you give me. We’re everything together, as special as any couple could be. She laughed because he understood, because he was lovely, because she never intended to be the recipient of such romanticism, but she thought he had the equation wrong: the specialness each possessed had nothing to do with them as a couple.

On a wintery Sunday morning they made a definitive pact: if they moved forward together into the future, they would not sideline their lives with procreation. Joan asked Martin to swear to it as they lay in her bed in her East Village apartment, then made him sit up and raise his right hand and repeat it again. When he said, I promise. No children, snow began falling, hushing the city, and they stayed beneath the covers the whole of the day. By nightfall, when Martin was tossing his things into his weekend bag, the snow had ceased, but outside it was still silent, not a car or a taxi or a bus tracking through the white drifts that had accumulated. Joan’s block, crusty and exhausted, had turned into a winter wonderland.

From her living-room windows, four floors above the ground, Joan watched Martin inching across the coated street in his loafers, his footsteps the first to mar the pristine. He was heading uptown to Penn Station for the 6:05 back to Baltimore. He hurtled over a curbside snowbank, landed on the sidewalk, and stopped. He found her at the window, waved madly, then turned the corner and was out of sight. Fifteen minutes later, Joan was in her flannel pajamas at the nicked wooden dining table long used as a desk, reading the proofs of Fictional Family Life, its publication imminent. She looked at the vase Martin had brought her, filled not with hothouse winter flowers, but with the red licorice vines he had learned she liked, the treat she indulged in judiciously, when the work was going well. She proofread late into the night, aware she was smiling, and that she had never worked with such a look on her face. A month after that, Dr. Martin Manning asked Joan Ashby to marry him.

Their wedding was modest. The ceremony, eloquent and stirring, unfolded in a small Manhattan park, with rows of red and yellow tulips in the beds, their petals flaring and open. Joan’s dress, long and white, was unadorned, simple, her slender neck, her shoulders, all bare in the early spring sun, her black hair in a braid peppered with tiny white flowers. Martin wore a smart black suit and a serious tie.

There was no family in attendance. Martin’s father, whom Joan met only once after they were engaged, had been interred in the Columbarium of the US Naval Academy in Annapolis on a rainy day three months before. And when Joan reluctantly phoned her parents to invite them, upending their pattern of brief every-other-month calls, her mother said, "Impossible, mais nous vous souhaitons bonne chance." Impossible, but we wish you good luck. Eleanor Ashby was not French, and had never been to France, but she fluently—though rarely—spoke the oft-proclaimed language of her true soul, had insisted on Joan’s fluency in it as well. For Joan, it was debatable whether Eleanor Ashby actually had a soul, but the French bonne chance indicated that her mother was attempting to be kind. Her use of the formal vous, rather than the intimate tu, an apparent denial of their mother-daughter relationship, did undercut that kindness, but it was better than Joan had expected. "Merci, maman," Joan said, relieved she would not have to see them.

The guests were not evenly divided; the groom’s far outnumbered the bride’s. All of Martin’s college and medical-school pals made the trek from whichever states had become home, and ten of his new colleagues from Rhome carpooled together from the campus twenty miles outside of town that housed the hospital and the lab. But Annabelle Iger was there, Joan’s former colleague at Gravida Publishing and the closest she had ever come to a best friend, along with the few other friends Joan had managed to make, and keep, during the years before her literary career exploded.

After she and Martin said their vows and slipped the wedding bands on each other’s fingers and engaged in their first marital kiss, the small party whooped and clapped. Annabelle Iger said afterward to them both, Your love makes me desire love in my bones, but only for the short term. Martin said, Go find my friend Max. He’s funny and smart and he thinks as you do, and Joan whispered to Iger, He has good lips, too. At a nearby French bistro slightly down at the heel, the wedding party drank and feasted and danced until nearly four in the morning.

In the afternoon they woke and Martin said, Wife, and Joan said, Husband, such a strange word in her mouth, a word she never expected to apply to a man in her bed, or out of it. She wondered what else it meant, besides spouse, mate, to use sparingly or economically, to conserve. Then they tangled their limbs together again.

The following evening, Martin put Joan’s suitcase into the trunk of an idling cab, before he too left the city, headed back to Rhome, to their newly purchased house, to his practice and research, while his bride flew away, for the foreign leg of the Fictional Family Life book tour. Her apartment had been emptied out, the landlord given notice of her permanent departure, and when she returned to the States, it would not be to JFK or LaGuardia, but to an airport near Washington, DC. Then Joan was flying across the ocean, sitting on trains, unpacking in glamorous foreign hotel rooms, reading to large and small gatherings, signing books, afterward spending the evenings with bookstore owners, critics, reviewers, emissaries of her overseas publishers, fellow writers, listening to trenchant debates about which new novels thrilled, which writers had been wrongfully blessed and did not deserve the worshipful, florid praise, whose work was unjustly overlooked, the glare eventually finding Joan again, a press of queries about what made her write, why she wrote what she wrote, when her first novel would be published.

Every day she composed a special postcard for Martin and sent it on its way, a pretty stamp in the corner from the country she was in. When they managed to talk on the phone, he said, It’s great getting mail in our new mailbox. I read your postcards and kiss your signature, then tack up each card on the kitchen wall. When she came home to Rhome, Martin had made a collage of all of her words.

*   *   *

It was two months since they married, three weeks since she had settled in Rhome, and Joan’s tall, handsome husband was kneeling down, as he had not kneeled when he proposed, and the hands his colleagues called miraculous were pressed against her flat belly.

Joan placed her own hands on his head, in a kind of benediction, feeling the silk of his brown hair with fingers that were naked except for the slim platinum wedding band on the fourth. The ring was still an unfamiliar weight, a sight that surprised her several times a day when she looked up from the page rolled into her typewriter and caught its silvery flash.

Her new husband was on his knees on the painted wooden floor in her new study in their new house. The floor was maple, but the stain had taken on a curious orange tinge, and when Joan was finally there, her boxes unpacked, her last appearance in front of a huge crowd at Barnard a memory that still made her tingle, the laughter that rose up when she said Martin did not want children either, only wanted to know if they might one day get a dog, the two of them had painted the floor white. Three separate coats on three successive Saturdays until the floor in her study gleamed.

Martin was kneeling and the heat from his hands passed through her thin sweater, branding her skin, and Joan found herself praying, not to God, or a god, for religion had not been part of her upbringing, but she was invoking her own personal kind of prayer, the soothing she had taught herself in childhood, reciting favorite words—horological, malevolent, splattering, spackled, fossicking, bedlamite, shambles, oblate, coruscating, shambolic, furbelowed, aperçu—this silent recitation, word after word, a beseeching, a cry for remembrance, for benevolence, for fairness. One by one, the words clicked through her mind, and then Martin looked up at her and he smiled and Joan saw his smile and felt a rip of fear, her eyes retreating from the beatific look on his face, landing on a corner of the room where she saw they had missed a place, a strip of wood not quite as brightly white as the rest.

Joan, he said, gripping her belly, as if his long surgeon fingers might cradle the infinitesimal and unwanted that her body was harboring. There was a gauzy shimmer across his brown eyes. She had never seen him shed a tear, not even at his father’s funeral, but the threat was there now, and another favorite word passed through her mind, trembling, because there were trembling teardrops poised behind Martin’s long lashes, ready to fall, and this time she could not look away, could only stare back at him as her body tightened, turned rigid, her heart all at once shocked into pounding, white noise filling her ears, her mind still reciting words—chaotic, barbate, insufflation, prodrome, otiose, misprision—but still she heard him say, I’ve never been so happy.

She watched him rise from the floor. He was speaking again. We’ve got to celebrate. I’ll go out and get some champagne and something sparkling and nonalcoholic for you.

And then he was out of her study, his tread heavy on the maple floors as he walked through the rest of their small house, the rattle of his keys as he plucked them from the bowl on the shelf next to the back door, the door slamming, his old Toyota revving up.

The shock did not relax its grip on her. She stood rooted to the white wooden floor, stunned that Martin did not remember their pact, the oath he took twice that snowy day not six months before, that his instinct was not hers, to do away with it completely, right from the start. A quick operation, she barely anaesthetized, her womb left clean and uninhabited, barer even than the bare rooms in this new house of theirs.

She thought of the story in Other Small Spaces that had become a revolutionary call among a small contingent of Joan’s most fervent female fans, the opening paragraphs flowing right through her:

It felt right to Elizabeth that her hand should be freed of that finger with the rings that pronounced her his property. The stump had stopped bleeding, but there was so much more blood than she expected, a spreading pool across the new kitchen floor, just beginning to stagnate.

Surely her blood would stain the white tiles, the white grout, but perhaps that was as it should be, an indelible reminder of her suffering. She bent to stare into the bloody pool, surprised at its deep hue, a rich, heavy burgundy, like the wines Stuart preferred, not the happy red that pebbled her fingertips from a paper cut at the office or a paring knife nick when she chopped vegetables for dinner. She wondered how difficult it would be to clean and nearly opened the cabinet for the cleaning stuff, but what was the rush, she wondered. She would leave it for another day.

She stood up and felt her bones knitting back into place, as they never had to do before he took to pummeling her. On the new kitchen counter, called Centaur Granite, lay the offending digit. It was rosy when she first cut it off, but it was paler now, a fine sort of blue. Like a work of art, really, a sculpture on a pedestal in a cool downtown gallery, with a placard beneath it that would read Drained of

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Ce que les gens pensent de The Resurrection of Joan Ashby

12 évaluations / 11 Avis
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  • (4/5)
    When I was nine years old my best friend asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be an author. In a few years, I was writing stories and then poetry. I tried to get published for a while, then didn't try but kept writing. Then the poems dried up.What happened? Life. Marriage, jobs because we needed money, a child. "If I told you the whole story it would never end...What's happened to me has happened to a thousand woman."--Ferderico Garcia Lorca, Dona Rosita la Soltera: The Language of FlowersThis quote appears at the beginning of The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, along with a quote from Olive Schreiner advising "live for that one thing" which is your aim in life. I recognized the story. I am one of the thousands who did not 'live for one thing.' But I do not regret my decision to put love first.Joan Ashby, the heroine of Cherise Wolas' novel, was sidetracked away from her 'one thing,' that which she was born to be, which she had single-mindedly worked for and achieved before she allowed her life to be claimed by others and their needs. This is the story of how Joan allowed love to determine who she was, and how love betrayed her, and the journey that brought her back to herself.Within pages, I was mesmerized by Wolas' writing. The beginning of the novel recalled to mind an old movie, like Citizen Kane, with clips of news stories giving one an idea of the person they are going to explore. The novel begins with an article in Literature Magazine entitled "(Re)Introducing Joan Ashby" in which we learn that Joan was a prize-winning writer in her early twenties, a genius, but that it has been three decades since she last published. Next, we read several of Ashby's stories and excerpts from an interview with Joan."Love was more than simply inconvenient; it's consumptive nature always a threat to serious women." Joan Ashby When Joan meets Martin Manning she tells him right away that her writing will always come first and that she has no need to be a mother. Martin is smitten and appears to support her wholeheartedly. But when two months after their marriage Joan finds she is pregnant, Martin tells her, "I've never been so happy." Martin makes her happy. Does Joan grant him this baby, which obviously will lead to another child? Or should she hold fast to her commitment and dedication to her art, have an abortion, even if it means losing her newly wed husband?The decisions Joan makes over the next thirty years put her husband and children's needs before her own artistic life. She does love them, but they take everything she has and offer back little. She feels a kinship with quiet Daniel and his love of books and story telling, but who opts for an unsuitable career. Eric is brilliant, testing the limits, achieving early success which he cannot handle. She is drained by their need, while longing to return to the one thing she wanted and needed above all else: the solitude of the creative life.After a horrible betrayal, Joan packs up and leaves her life behind to find out who she is and what it is she wants. In India, practicing yoga, Joan contemplates her marriage and her children, and the role of motherhood in all its manifestations, slowly growing into an understanding of how she wants to spend the rest of her life. The 500+ page book, for me, slows in this last third as Joan goes on an internal journey, including sections of the novel she is writing.Joan's passivity and inability to carve out what she needed is a great part of her failed life. She is not completely a likable character when she accuses her husband of selfishness, for she did not stand up for herself and give him a chance to accommodate her needs. Their lack of communication indicates a flawed marriage. And Joan's need for secrecy about her writing life, novels and stories written in hours when she was alone, ends up harmful. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is an outstanding debut. I adored the nontraditional story telling which incorporated Joan's stories. The theme of the female artist's struggle to combine love and work will appeal to many women. I will be thinking about this book for a long time, and expect I will return to read portions as I grapple with my understanding of Joan.I thank the publisher for a free ARC in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
  • (5/5)
    A hefty old school novel with a lot of depth to it. Jean wants to be an author and early in her life she is. Then she gets married to a man who promises that they will not have children which will cut into her career. Two sons come and for the most part the writing stops. The majority of the novel is about her troubled relationships with her kids and ultimately her "resurrection" as a woman later in life. This is an epic novel with four well developed and complex characters. I really liked it.
  • (5/5)
    It's not often that halfway through a book I know I will be giving it 5 stars no matter where it goes or how the story ends. It's even less often I will run straight to the Internet to follow the author on social media everywhere.This book and this author are just that good.Don't let the 544-page count fool you. The pages breeze along and the writing feels effortless. It is one of those books that draws you in and makes you feel as though you are a part of the story. Joan Asby is a living, breathing character and I didn't want my time with her to end. Anyone who appreciates character-driven fiction and well-crafted sentences needs to read this book! I'm usually put off by stories within stories, or anything like a dream sequence that takes away from the main narrative, but I even enjoyed those parts – a lot.I received a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review and I've got to say that this is what I love most about the Goodreads 'first reads' program. Based solely on book description alone I might not have otherwise picked this one up, at least not right away. While the synopsis is fitting, Joan Ashby is just So. Much. More. ...Which brings me to the thing I dislike about the first reads program: having to try to write a review of such a fantastic book. Other readers may be able to describe with more clarity and insight than I can, so I will leave the rehash to those readers. Just know that it is an amazing journey that you don't want to miss!
  • (5/5)
    Joan Ashby is a celebrated author at the peak of her career. She’s been open about avoiding love and motherhood and wanting to give all to her creativity. But then love finds her heart but she makes it very clear to her soon-to-be husband that there will be no children in their future. When Joan finds herself pregnant and her husband is ecstatic at the news, Joan decides to devote herself to her family with all intentions of resuming her career at some point. However, the future holds a betrayal that is a very grievous one.This author is so very talented. I can’t say that I agreed with her character’s assessment of motherhood and her reluctance to embrace it over her career. I’ve always thought that being a mother was the highest honor a woman could have. But then again, I’ve never been a celebrity or in the limelight due to any particular talent of mine so I may have felt differently in her shoes. Despite our differences, the author gave me a clear understanding of where Joan was coming from and I was immediately pulled into her world. This is a fascinating portrayal of a woman who selflessly chooses motherhood and pays a heavy price. The betrayal that I don’t want to give a hint of a spoiler about was truly a shocking one.As an added bonus in this book, it includes short stories written by Joan which are as entertaining as the main story. Her stories before motherhood are quite dark. Some of them have a connection with Joan’s story, some not as much, but all are engrossing.I couldn’t be more impressed with this debut novel and am looking forward to more of this author’s work. This is an intelligent look at not only motherhood but all aspects of being a woman. Each of the characters in this book will stay with me for a long time to come.Most highly recommended.I won this book in a contest given by the publisher and am under no obligation to give a review.
  • (5/5)
    UPDATED REVIEW 9/26/17:
    This is a brilliantly written (debut!) literary novel at 500 pages that reads both like an intimate memoir and a sweeping epic. The language dazzles as we become infatuated with, invested in, and infuriated with Joan Ashby: The Writer. Her craft is the single most important thing to her, and her ambition never wanes as she begrudgingly accepts motherhood. Reading her stories and knowing her sacrifices makes an eventual betrayal that much more painful. I’m halfway convinced that Joan Ashby is the real writer here, and Cherise Wolas is her literary agent. Wolas has an immense talent for storytelling and I will gladly read anything else she writes.

    ORIGINAL REVIEW 8/29/17:
    I received an eGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

    I almost didn't read this book. The description and the cover art definitely grabbed my eye, and I have a weakness for all protagonists named Joan, but I don't read "women's fiction" or much "contemporary family life" at all. Give me gritty realism and raw facts; even my taste in poetry tends to hit hard. I didn't want to read about another woman coming to realize that motherhood was a blessing in disguise, despite her sacrifices along the way.

    I could not be more happy to be entirely wrong about this novel.

    I am besotted with the way Wolas writes. I would read and reread entire paragraphs, languishing in their beauty before I was ready to move onward to the next delicious sentence. I, too, have fallen under Ashby's spell and would be delighted if any of HER writing were published today. I would read anything Ashby wrote, and the same now goes for Cherise Wolas, even if I have to wait 28 years in the meantime. I know it will be worth it.
  • (3/5)
    This book was far, far too long and meandering. I think the author thought all the asides with examples of the writing of the protagonist, an essayist and novelist, and that writing's themes of isolation, familial dissolution, and satisfaction and fulfilment in artistic creation would be very clever, since those are also the themes of the main plot. But these asides became very obvious and repetitive, and eventually only served to draw out the story to interminable lengths—if Joan Ashby were a real novelist, I'd stop reading her work pretty quickly.
  • (5/5)
    There is a phrase that is constantly tossed around by readers and critics alike, "a modern classic." I never thought I'd come across a book that I would apply that phrase to when it's still fresh off the presses. I believed time would tell, and I was wrong. The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is a modern classic. From start to finish, I found myself deep in the world of Joan Ashby, and was satisfied when I left.
  • (5/5)
    This irresistible novel, also containing short stories, weighing in at 531 pages, is as meta as they come. Renowned young short story author Joan Ashby surrenders her principles and her urge to write her first novel when she marries brilliant eye surgeon Martin and devotes years to him and to their two sons. Asphyxiated between resentment and love, she continues to create what she considers to be minor stories, but does not send them to her publisher. Elder son Daniel writes 99 stories about a squirrel and reads The Painted Bird and The Happy Hooker before he is ten years old. Second son Eric drops out of middle school and starts his own computer software business at age 13. These achievements are not believable but the reader hangs in there because the writing is really, really brilliant, as told in the voices of Joan and Daniel, and because she finally gets started on her novel. But when he reaches his early twenties, Daniel, cowed by the overwhelming success of his parents and brother, betrays his mother in a horribly brutal manner. In the latter half of the novel, Joan flees to an idealized India, where she writes letters to the Dalai Lama and awaits his assent to an audience. This is an also unbelievable India, populated without any poor people, where everyone apparently exists for the sole purpose of leading Joan to the light.There are two main problems here: the transparency of the plot line, none of which could occur IRL; and the inclusion of several of Joan's short stories, which would have been better served by the author as a collection outside the novel. However, the writing is so smooth and compelling that I can still recommend it as a singular and memorable experience.Quotes: "It is a long-borne burden, knowing what you lack, and I knew what I lacked.""They mirrored my life: strong out of the gate, stuck in the middle, failing to find an exit.""She thinks destiny will always win out over second-best, that it's an impossible burden on those left behind."
  • (5/5)
    Resurrection was my third ARC in a row, and this was the one that won the day with this reader. The story centers on a female writer and her family. Before she married, she was a bestselling author of wide acclaim, then, as she gave birth to her two sons, she found that so much in her life came before her writing time. The plot is well-constructed and the book is filled with many of the short stories and segments of her other works, making it a wide selection of writings. Other than a long segment on traveling in India, I was always right there with her writing, and even then, it had a great payoff involving smiling.
  • (5/5)
    What a gem of a book this was! I loved Joan's use of "words" that she uses to describe what is happening around her. I loved how the characters were so well developed throughout the story. This was a wonderfully written debut novel! I am going to look forward to more books by Ms Wolas.

    My thanks to netgalley and Flatiron books for this advanced readers copy.
  • (4/5)
    I enjoyed reading it but it took me awhile. I am glad to see i am not the only one distracted by the inclusion of her short stories into the 530 plus pages. Several times she refers to her resistance to editing and this tedious at times story line would have benefited with a heavy edit. I get the inclusion was to flesh out her feelings and add depth but it was not needed. I was totally enchanted with Joan. Especially after reading the yellow envelope with the self absorbed protagonist. Joan, with her abundance of talent puts her ambition on hold for her family only to feel cheated and misunderstood and unappreciated. Isn't this what most women feel during a kid life crisis? Despite it losing its way several times an excellent read. Three stars because of the unnecessary short stories which bogged it down.