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Review – The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger
519 pages
Published 2003
Fiction

Okay, so I know I was slow to drink of The Time Traveler’s Wife kool-aid, but I drank it and promptly spit it right back out. This book, my friends, I do not understand the appeal.

The premise of The Time Traveler’s Wife is you have Clare and Henry, and Henry’s a time traveler because he has a wonky gene, and in this time traveling that he’s wont to do, he meets Clare! Who ends up being his wife! Excepting, he meets Clare when she’s SIX, which is just a young’un! So Clare grows up knowing Henry as this dude who shows up naked in a field behind her house sometimes (for reasons that don’t exactly make sense, Henry’s clothes fall off when he time travels, so he’s always ending up nekkid and looking for clothes). And eventually Clare finds out that ZOMG she and Henry get MARRIED and HOW ROMANTIC IS THAT?! So the story’s about how Henry and Clare are so much in love, but this story is tragic as Henry flits in and out of Clare’s life (unwillingly! He can’t control when/where he time travels) and you just know this is going to end in heartbreak for Clare. Or, at least you assume it will because Niffenegger makes it really clear that This Will Not End Well.

And I know, most of you have already read the book, so instead of being coy, let me just tell you what I didn’t like. If’n you haven’t read the book and don’t want spoilers, just skip to the last sentence or two where I tell you I really didn’t like it

There was holes with Henry’s time traveling. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what didn’t add up, but I’m sure someone smarter than me has dissected the time traveling in this book. And I know! How very cynical of me to find problems with the time travel, but seriously, would it have been so hard to explain it a little better and make it so I might actually believe it? I’m really not that smart, so it wouldn’t have been that hard.

Henry can be a total dick. I know his being a dick was more before he and Clare got together, but WHY would I root for Clare to get together with someone who’s a dick? WHY would I want Clare to date a guy that MOST LIKELY will change, but hasn’t become that guy yet? That’s just stupid, wanting a nice girl to date a jerk on the off chance he’ll change. Here’s a crazy, ass backwards idea: why don’t we wait until the guy HAS changed? I know! I have crazy thoughts!

There was crassness from Clare that seemed to be there JUST TO BE THERE. I’m no prude, but really? Some of the things Clare said, I was like, Who are you and what have you done with Clare. Because really. If Clare really would have said those things, then I think a little mention somewhere about how Clare sometimes gets Turrets would have been helpful.

How completely selfish and irresponsible of Clare to INSIST that she and Henry have their own baby as opposed to adopting, knowing that having a child together would produce a kid with the time traveling gene. And let’s say they have a girl. Now they’ve got a girl who’s going to be appearing naked in random places as she time travels? What the hell is so terrible about adopting? I KNOW. I GET IT. I know why she wanted to have a baby with Henry, but I have no words for how arrogantly selfish this was. She risks the safety and health of her future unborn child FOR HER OWN HAPPINESS. Wow, I didn’t know that it was okay to put someone else at risk so long as you’re happy. That’s great.

The whole story…I guess it was okay. There were too many things I didn’t get or couldn’t get behind, though, for me to really enjoy this book.

Rating: 69 out of 100

Book source: I borrowed this book from a friend.

And one more thing? If you click on one of The Time Traveler’s Wife links and buy something from Amazon, I’ll make a commission!

You can thank the FTC for this disclosure!

| Tags: , , , 85 comments »

85 Responses to “Review – The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger”

  1. Sheila DeChantal

    I have never read this. It has been on my shelf forever but I just see so many mixed reviews…..

    [Reply]

    Carrin Mahmood Reply:

    Oh dear….Am I alone in loving this book? Part of it is an isatiable love of all things time travel I guess.
    1. The naked thing is the first time, in many time travel novels I have read, that it happens, and it immediately made sense to me. If your cells are being transported, why would your clothes come with? I would think they could get jumbled into your reconstructing cells like in “The Fly.”
    2. I whole heartedly agree on Clare’s language. What the heck!? I had to actually stop reading and look at the cover again to see if it was a female author, her choice of descriptive language for anatomical parts was not only out of character, I seldom hear females using those words.
    3. There was a creeper factor with old Henry visiting young Clare, I’ll give you that!
    4. I can’t imagine what one’s personality would be like in Henry’s situation. I hated his, but was intrigued by where she went with it.

    GMy advice is give it a chance. Especially if you are in a book club. PLENTY to talk about! I have some pretty good discussion questions to bolster conversation (besides the ones in the back of the apaperback version)

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    You’re right, Carrin, there would be plenty to talk about in a book club! And you know what, it’s these very polarizing books that make the best discussions!

    [Reply]

    Carrin Mahmood Reply:

    Don’t let the size intimidate you, the chapters leap (haha) between times so the number of pages don’t indicate solid print!

    [Reply]

  2. Sasha

    This is kinda freaky, because before I plopped down in front of the computer to check my Google Reader, I’d plucked TTW from my shelf. It’s actually on my lap right now.

    See, I’ve tried THREE times to read this book, making very slow progress, but I wasn’t liking it at all those three times. It felt kind of… forced. I can’t elaborate on that right now, since I’ve only ever made it to say, page 50, when I did pick it up.

    The book is currently glaring at me right now. Sigh.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    HA! Sasha, I would bet money on the fact you won’t like it. Is there a bookie who’ll give me odds on this? 😉

    [Reply]

    Sasha Reply:

    Goodness, but I’m back. I’ve been slogging through the book since I was last here, and and and OMG. You won that bet, haha. I’m all for romances, but these people were just, wah. I think beyond the complaints about creepiness and crassness and plot holes (and I want to rant about the ending)–these were characters I didn’t really feel for. I didn’t care about them so much.

    I could’ve stayed away, but nooooo, I had to be curious. I love your review ten times more now. (I promise to listen next time.) ;p

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    HA! I love that you read it anyway. 🙂

    [Reply]

  3. Jenny

    I’m one of the few who hasn’t read this yet either! You make some good points though!! I know this is one of those love it or hate it books… I’m not sure yet if I’ll read it. Maybe I’ll just watch the movie (LOL, I hate when people do that, but for real, I might).

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    People guaranteed me I’d like the book, so maybe you will. And I do want to see the movie! I have a feeling I’ll like it because I’ve heard it’s slightly different from the book.

    [Reply]

  4. nomadreader

    I still haven’t read this book, despite the almost universally glowing reviews. I did read Her Fearful Symmetry, which I thought was beautifully written, but not a good book at all. People keep assuring me I will love The Time Traveler’s Wife, but I’m still trepidatious. When I do read it, I know I won’t be alone with any opinion I have.

    I did, incidentally, adore her illustrated novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress. Perhaps I am simply able to suspend disbelief more for grown-up picture books.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    “Perhaps I am simply able to suspend disbelief more for grown-up picture books.” HA! I think I’d be the same!

    [Reply]

  5. diane

    I am another who has never read this book. Did not think I’d like time travel. No desire to see the movie either. I did like the author’s latest book though.

    [Reply]

  6. Nicole

    I am glad that you read this if only to see your amusing thoughts. Yu should have been at book club with me if only so that I could have someone on my side. I was okay with reading the book for discussion but as I have said before, I just didn’t see it as romantic.

    Claire and Henry were both very selfish, but I think the choices that she made, especially with her irrational desire to have a child was so that she would have something steady in her life. I never viewed Henry as much more than a step above a ped. because i really think he should have walked away, told her to leave clothes for him and let her have a normal life instead of having only him as a basis for romantic experience.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Man, I wish I WAS at your book club! And I totally agree about Henry. How was that not totally icky?

    [Reply]

  7. bermudaonion (Kathy)

    I saw the movie and enjoyed it so I went out and bought the book – now I’m wondering if I’ll like it.

    [Reply]

  8. Heather J.

    THANK YOU! I thought I was the only one out there who didn’t like this book!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    HAHA! So did I! Not that you were the only one who didn’t like it, but that I was the only one who didn’t like it. This post has everyone who didn’t like it coming out of the woodwork!

    [Reply]

  9. nikki

    Awww…count me in as one who drank the kool-aid and loved it. And normally I can’t stand romance. But you throw in a little sci-fi time-travel? I’m there and I can’t resist. I LOVE time travel books. They’re my weakness.

    I kind of liked the flaws of the characters. Maybe I know too many flawed people in real life, but I can’t stand to read characters with no flaws.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I like characters with flaws, just not these characters with these flaws. LOL

    [Reply]

  10. Beth F

    I really liked this book. I read it as a fascinating look into time travel and the problems and horrors it could bring with it. I thought about how terrible it would be for a girl and how kind of creepy it was for a grown man to appear to a young girl and make a connection with her. But I was still caught up in the story. I listened to the audiobook, and the dual narration was really good. I gave the book an 8 out 10 (read before I started blogging).

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Another friend did the audiobook and really liked it. Maybe I should have tried it that way…

    [Reply]

  11. HildeSol

    This book has been gathering dust on my shelf for a while -“everybody” has loved it and somehow that always makes me not want to read it. But now I’m intrigued…

    [Reply]

  12. Steph

    Don’t worry, I didn’t like this kool-aid either! I read this book in 2008, and I just didn’t really get the appeal. There were parts that I thought were ok, but mostly I did not see the grand romance between Clare and Henry, because as you said, Henry was pretty awful. But then again, Clare wasn’t all that awesome either, and I found her stance on adoption pretty reprehensible. I have decided that in some weird way, this book is like Twilight for adults and Henry = Edward. Not my cup of kool-aid at all!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Steph, you continue to affirm what I like and don’t like and why!

    [Reply]

  13. Aunt Becky

    I didn’t like the book EITHER! I really, really didn’t get the appeal and couldn’t understand why everyone was all “zomg!! best book ever!!” But then again, I just felt like I was missing something.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    We must be missing the same thing. 😉 And maybe that’s why I like you so much?

    [Reply]

  14. Ti

    I have a copy of this one but have put off reading it. I just don’t believe the hype. I read Her Fearful Symmetry and it wasn’t all that great but I promised a few bloggers that I would read TTW so I will read it sometime this year, but I’m afraid that I will have the same reaction you did.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    That’s how I ended up reading TTW — I promised my readers I would once they voted for it!

    [Reply]

  15. Kathy (Mommysreading)

    I have this book but I was unable to finish it. Well, actually I was unable to even start it. I tried. I really tried. But it felt wierd to me. I wanted to see the movie, but had to read it first. Needless to say… I have not seen the movie . Still, it sits on my TBR shelf waiting for the day when I don’t have anything else to read. Ha!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Skip it! We can watch the movie together, and I’ll provide a running commentary about why the book sucked and the movie’s better (or worse!). Is it a date? I’ll bring the air-popped popcorn with melted butter on top!

    [Reply]

  16. Teresa

    I read this one a couple of years ago. I did have a hard time with it and didn’t understand why it was so fantastic. I sometimes had a difficult time following the story. I have yet to see the movie so I’m not sure how it translates.

    [Reply]

  17. Kristen

    I didn’t love this one either and when I informed my book club of all the gaping plot holes I’d run across in my disgruntlement, they looked at me like I’d peed in their cornflakes. The plot line doesn’t always work but because the time line is so convoluted, I think Niffenegger just gave up, convinced she’d have everyone so confused that they’d accept it. As for your comment about Claire acting out of character, could you perhaps be referring to right after she’s given birth and she is walking around the house dropping the C word right and left–as in “My c… hurt.” Um, really? An incendiary word, not uttered in a fit of rage but completely matter-of-factly, like that out of the mouth of an otherwise average and reasonably normal character? Sorry, not buying it. Having read the book, I had no desire to see the movie and I am still sorry about the time I spent reading it.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    HAHA!! “peed in their cornflakes”

    And YES, Claire’s use of the C word was shocking. Especially since she was just referring to her vajayjay!

    [Reply]

  18. pusserboots

    I think you were too kind to the book. It is one of the dozen or so I have actually thrown across a room for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. I was not a popular at my book club when everyone else was raving about the book.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I was excited to meet you before, but now I’m REALLY excited! Yay for similar taste in books!

    [Reply]

    pusserboots Reply:

    I’m feeling the same warm fuzzies. We should meet for coffee sometime.

    [Reply]

  19. Jen - Devourer of Books

    Aw, I found this KoolAid delicious, although it has been a looong time since I read it (drank it?). I do agree with you about Claire’s crassness, however, I always found that a bit strange.

    [Reply]

  20. Jena

    Thank you; inconsistency in characters drives me absolutely mad and this review totally quashes any inclinations I may have felt to read The Time-Traveler’s Wife. I’m relieved. I really wasn’t drawn to it to begin with, even though my book group encouraged me to (I think I might be splitting from my book group). Thanks, Trish!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I’ve thought about splitting from my (real life) book club, so I know how you feel! And yeah…I wasn’t particularly drawn to it in the first place (or I would have read it sooner, right?), so trust those instincts!

    [Reply]

  21. melissa @ 1lbr

    I’m with you. Hated it, really. I thought the romance was creepy. And really, they fell in love because he came from the future and told her they fell in love? Blech.

    [Reply]

  22. Elisabeth

    I didn’t realize there were so many people who did not like TTW.
    I read this with my Book Group a few years ago and we loved it.
    We found this to be a story with a different twist, the time traveling. It was a book we thought we weren’t going to like and were pleasantly surprised. As with many books, you did have to give it some license for the “gaps” but we found it to be an enjoyable read. Different reads for different folks is what makes the world go round!!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I love that different books work or don’t work for various people! And I actually think I’m in the minority for not liking it. 🙂

    [Reply]

  23. zibilee

    I read this book a long time ago and was just totally skeeved out that Henry always showed up naked as well. I mean, why exactly did his clothes have to disappear whenever he did? The other things that you mention also bothered me. I didn’t get why Claire had to get pregnant, especially after she kept losing babies because of the time travel gene problem. I also didn’t see the great love between the characters. It was mentioned a lot, but not really shown, you know? I wanted showing, not telling, and I didn’t get it. I was really underwhelmed by this book and I felt like the odd man out, because everyone I came across seemed to love it! Glad to know I am not alone out there!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    You’re right, Henry and Claire’s love was talked about a lot, but never really shown. HOWEVER, I did like the scene at the end. *hangs head in shame*

    [Reply]

  24. Jennifer @ Mrs. Q: Book Addict

    I completely agree with your review. I was not a fan of this book, I did not understand the appeal.

    [Reply]

  25. Jenners

    See, now I just LOVED this book and I didn’t have any of the problems you did. Perhaps I just don’t think too hard. I reacted to it very emotionally … and I thought it was just amazing and satisfying. But I know you are not alone … but I’m sad you didn’t love it. : (

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Obviously you read it the right way! Some books are better dissected, you know?

    [Reply]

  26. Jeane

    Well, I liked it. So much that when I finished, I wanted to read it all over again immediately. I admit I saw holes in the story, and at first I tried to figure out all the time-travel stuff exactly, but that just made my head hurt so I gave up and decided to just enjoy it without trying to understand how it all worked. However, with the movie I was more annoyed that it wasn’t explained more clearly.

    And the kid thing? I can’t remember if the film added this in, or if it was in the book, but apparently their daughter had more control of the time-travel thing; could end up with her clothes on, and plan where/when she was going. So that part wasn’t so bad for me. I wanted to know more about Henry’s supposed treatment, myself.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    HA! I’m totally going to see the movie and I think I’ll like the movie more. And as annoyed as I was that Niffenegger didn’t explain the time travel stuff in the book, I have this weird suspicion that that won’t bother me in the movie. I really *do* try to just be in the moment when I’m reading a book or watching a movie and not question things or examine them too closely. Don’t know why I fell off the wagon for this book!

    [Reply]

  27. Jennifer

    This is a book that I own, but have not read as of yet. I truly like your extremely honest review. I will not be rushing to get to this book, but I will eventually read it.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Well let me know what you think once you’ve read it!

    [Reply]

  28. I Heart Monster

    I’ve just never been interested in it! Everyone tells me how good it is, I read the description, and I’m all, “Um, nope, doesn’t grab me. Not worth my time.” Glad to see you spat out the kool-aid ;op

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    You know what’s weird? I really had no desire to read the book, until I listed some book I have, you know, The Best Books You Haven’t Read or something like that, and TTW won by a landslide as far as which book I should read next. I should have known that since I wasn’t really interested before, I wouldn’t be interested now… 😉

    [Reply]

  29. raidergirl3

    I was in the middle. I liked it when I read it, was confused by the time travel if I tried to think about it too much, but it wasn’t a book I list as one of my favorites, as many other people do. I think the idea of the romance is bigger than the execution of the novel, so marks for the concept.

    I just finished The Unnamed, and there was a similarity I felt between the books – an unusual medical condition coming between the love of the characters. Nothing specific to compare, just an overall theme of love through adversity, very unusual adversity mind you.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    LADY!! You can’t tell me you just finished THE UNNAMED and not tell me what you thought of it! ACK! Come back!

    [Reply]

  30. Melissa

    Love this review Trish! I tried to read the first chapter of this book and I couldn’t get through it… I just couldn’t get past all the naked time travel and the whole ‘i’m 6 years old and hanging with a naked man in the woods’. I saw the movie on a plane and I didn’t mind the nakedness because Eric banna (sp?) is delicious. I obviously can’t say if the film is accurate to the book but it seemed more bearable than the 1st chapter. I also felt there were all kinds of holes with the time travel i couldn’t quite put my finger on either. I just don’t understand the appeal!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    HAHA! Hell to the yes on Eric Bana. MUST get around to that movie soon! 😉

    [Reply]

  31. Anna

    I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but when I first saw the trailers the first thought that came into mind was that the story seems creepy. In the way that The Thorn Birds was creepy (I mean, Father Ralph was the man who told Meggie about her period. How could she grow up and sleep with him?)

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Isn’t that kind of like sleeping with your dad…err…your mom? *shiver*

    [Reply]

  32. Emily

    HAHAHAHA! I really, really loved reading your review. The first time I heard of this book (or maybe I heard of the movie first; I don’t know) I thought it sounded unbelievably stupid and I wanted nothing to do with it. And people around me starting reading it and LIKING it, so I thought, hey, maybe there’s actually more to it. But now. Now that I’ve read your review I’m starting to think my original, judgmental opinion may be right 🙂 Thanks for suffering through the book for us!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Emily, your opinion is so right you don’t even know! I don’t know why I didn’t just stop reading once I realized I didn’t like it. Maybe because I thought it would get better? There did come a point where I was so far along that I wanted to finish it just to finish it.

    [Reply]

  33. Ashley G

    So glad to know I’m not the only one who didn’t get this book…too weird for me. I finally gave up on it – truly I wanted to throw it across the room b/c it annoyed me so much!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I should have given up on it too! But with a book that big, once I get to a certain point, I won’t give up no matter how much I hate it. I need to let that go! 🙂

    [Reply]

  34. frankie

    I read this atleast 2 years ago and liked it in a ,”it’s summer and I don’t want to strain my brain” way.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    HA! I could totally see that. LOL

    [Reply]

  35. Nicole Langan

    In the movie, it got ridiculous that he ended up naked everywhere.

    [Reply]

  36. marginalia || The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger « Sasha & The Silverfish

    […] to quit bitchin’ and just read the damned thing. And then, book in my lap, I came across Trish’s review. Then, I decided–again–to quit bitchin’ and just read the damned […]

  37. Alipet813

    Ok, it took me several times to read this book. I kept having a hard time getting into it. When I finished it I did like it, but I agree with a couple of things. To me there were holes in the time travel. I never got how he could travel and be with himself. I just didn’t get it. Also, I too thought it was a little icky that he would love a girl he knew at 6. Of course, I got confused wondering if he traveled back and saw her at 6 or what. It was like he traveled back and met her, but he actually physically met her later. Hell, I don’t know I got lost on that part.
    I watched the movie too. It made me cry.
    I like this book enough to read her newest, but I was similar with it. I couldn’t really decide how much I actually liked it.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I’m a sap. I’m sure the movie will make me cry. I think I *might* have shed a tear at the last scene in the book, but maybe it was because I was glad it was finally over?

    [Reply]

  38. Shay

    I’m not sure if I liked the book or not. I agree with you on Claire’s language and also a few of her actions. There’s a lot about the book that is just down right creepy to me, when old Henry (who is married to older Claire) pops back to 18 year old Claire disgusted me a bit. Cheating, not cheating? Not sure.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I know, right? And thinking about it made my head hurt!

    [Reply]

  39. Karen @ Planet Books

    What a refreshing review!! Thanks for making me laugh with your “colorful” language. I bought this book when it first came out and could only get through the first half of it. I thought I might give it another chance all these years later but I might just lend it out to those willing to take the chance instead. Got too much to read Girl!! Gotta discriminate! Sorry all you not-worth-it-books!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Yes! Too many other fantastic books to read!

    [Reply]

  40. S. Krishna

    THANK YOU – I read this book a few years ago, and while I thought it was okay, I just didn’t get why everyone was gushing about it!!

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    We have a LOT of the same opinions about books! Love that!

    [Reply]

  41. Lisa

    Well, now I just want to pick this one off of Mt. TBR with two fingers only and drop it straight into the trash. Because I’ve had my doubts based on the premise but so many people have raved about it that I actually bought it. Thank evens I found it at the Half-Price store so I won’t feel as bad about it.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Dump that dirty chunkster! LOL. Doesn’t it kill you when you buy a book and you hate it? I don’t do that too often, but every once in a while…

    [Reply]

  42. Colleen (Books in the City)

    I have tried to read this book but didn’t get very far so I am relieved to hear that I am not alone in not seeing all its magic! I haven’t given up entirely on the book – it’s still on the shelf – but I can’t bring myself to start it again . . .

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    Colleen, I thought I was alone too. I can’t believe all the people who’ve come out of the woodwork! I feel like we need a team name or something…

    [Reply]

  43. Jennifer

    I haven’t read it yet, but I am kind of bummed to hear that you didn’t like it. I had been hearing such positive reviews of this book and it’s sitting on my shelf awaiting my attention. I find the size of the book to be a bit daunting which is why I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    The size of the book *is* a bit daunting, but if you like it you’ll fly through it. 🙂 And you know what? More people liked it than agreed with me, so give it a shot. 🙂

    [Reply]

  44. Shelley @ ChainReading

    I only made it about 40 pages and then gave up. It just wasn’t appealing to me at all.

    [Reply]

  45. Cam (epiBloguer)

    I agree with a lot of what you said about this book. I really got sick of the crassness as well–it just seemed really gratuitous. I just couldn’t understand what sort of point she was trying to make with it. I also thought the characters fell sort of flat for me. I have to say that I think Niffenegger is talented… not sure I’m really sorry I read it, but not my favorite for sure. My review’s here: http://epibloguer.blogspot.com/2009/08/time-travelers-wife-by-audrey.html

    [Reply]

  46. Taynas

    I’m so glad to find others who don’t like this book. My main reason for not liking the book was the in my opinion, excessively tragic and hammy nature of there sad love affair near the end. The really dramatic and excessive descriptions of the miscarriages, Gomez’s pseudo-rape of Claire near the end, his losing both his legs when running was his religion (such a sad and cheesy metaphor going there) and the whole her never seeing him again until she is really old. The tragedy was immense and pointed out at every turn which just annoyed me and made me not feel sad at all. Yay to all of you haters out there, I feel so much less alone.

    [Reply]

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