The Family Man

( 28 )


A hysterical phone call from his ex-wife and a familiar face in a photograph upend Henry Archer’s wellordered life. They bring him back into contact with the child he adored, a short-term stepdaughter from a misbegotten marriage long ago. Henry is a lawyer, an old-fashioned man, gay, successful, lonely. Thalia is now twenty-nine, an actresshopeful, estranged from her newly widowed crackpot mother— Denise, Henry’s ex. Hoping it will lead to better things for her career, Thalia agrees to pose as the girlfriend of a...

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The Family Man

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A hysterical phone call from his ex-wife and a familiar face in a photograph upend Henry Archer’s wellordered life. They bring him back into contact with the child he adored, a short-term stepdaughter from a misbegotten marriage long ago. Henry is a lawyer, an old-fashioned man, gay, successful, lonely. Thalia is now twenty-nine, an actresshopeful, estranged from her newly widowed crackpot mother— Denise, Henry’s ex. Hoping it will lead to better things for her career, Thalia agrees to pose as the girlfriend of a former sitcom star and current horror-movie luminary who is down on his romantic luck. When Thalia and her complicated social life move into the basement of Henry’s Upper West Side townhouse, she finds a champion in her long-lost father, and he finds new life—and maybe even new love—in the commotion.

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Editorial Reviews

Penelope Green
The Family Man is Lipman's ninth novel, and by now she has her method down pat: a screwball plot with a tone and in a territory that veers from Paul Rudnick to Nora Ephron, driven by copious rapid-fire dialogue and quickly sketched scene-setting details…She has a penchant for slapstick, or even slapshtick, but so did Preston Sturges, and so you forgive her. What redeems the mayhem of the sitcom story line of Family Man and the unlikely behavior of its voluble, careering characters is the author's abundant good will.
—The New York Times
Carolyn See
Just because something is "light" doesn't mean it's not masterful. Lipman's use of dialogue, for instance, is exquisite…Though I read this book twice, I see that I stopped taking notes both times halfway through. Lipman mesmerized me. She hypnotized me. I admit it freely: I fell victim to the Elinor Lipman Effect.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

A divorced gay man's vanquished paternalism returns when he reconnects with his long-lost stepdaughter in Lipman's hilarious and moving 10th novel. Set in New York, the book opens with Henry Archer phoning his ex-wife, Denise, to offer condolences over the death of her husband, the man Denise divorced then-closeted Henry for. Upon visiting Denise, Henry notices photos of now grown stepdaughter Thalia, a charming wannabe actress he recognizes from the hair salon in his neighborhood, and determines to reenter her life. What ensues is a heartwarming reconnection as Henry and Thalia relearn what it means to be a father and daughter, respectively. When Thalia is hired by a PR firm to play the role of real-life girlfriend to a struggling actor, Henry's fatherly instinct and legal background compel him to ask Thalia to move in with him and to serve as her attorney. During the process of managing Thalia's career, Henry also grows closer to Denise, meets a handsome man and rediscovers the joy of family. The plot alone will suck in readers, but Lipman's knack for creating lovable and multifaceted characters is the real draw. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

With all the requisite elements, including sparkling dialog, a clash of personalities, and delightfully flawed characters-not to mention unusual family situations and overbearing matriarchs-this book offers readers hints of Lipman's previous books, from Then She Found Me to The Dearly Departed. When the comfortably wealthy and homosexual Henry Archer's recently widowed ex-wife, Denise Krouch, reappears after 24 years, his ordered life is turned upside down. The unwelcome reunion with the brash and socially inept Denise brings with it a silver lining: his reacquaintance with Denise's estranged daughter, Thalia, and a blind date with Todd. Henry soon finds himself in the midst of Denise's familial drama and struggling actress Thalia's doomed-to-fail publicity stunt with a horror film star. He also finds himself happily in love with both his daughter and Todd. Evocative of both Jane Austen and Entertainment Weekly, this will be another hit with Lipman fans. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/09.]
—Anika Fajardo

Kirkus Reviews
Lipman (My Latest Grievance, 2006, etc.) returns with the story of a retired, gay New York lawyer who finds himself happily embroiled with his ex-wife's now adult daughter. Back when he was still in the closet, Henry married Denise and adopted her daughter Thalia from her first marriage. He adored Thalia, but after two years, when Denise left Henry for another man, Henry lost parental rights. Twenty-four years later Denise's third husband has died and his sons from a previous marriage are getting almost everything, so Denise turns to Henry for legal help. At Denise's apartment Henry sees a picture of Thalia, from whom Denise is currently estranged-a little brouhaha at the funeral-and realizes Thalia works as a receptionist at his barbershop. Soon they are lunching and bonding to make up for lost years. Before long Thalia moves into his brownstone's basement apartment. An aspiring actress, Thalia takes a job pretending to be horror-movie actor Leif Dumont's girlfriend to make him more palatable to the public as romantic lead material, and Henry helps her negotiate her contract despite misgivings over the risks and ramifications entailed. Thalia and Leif's phony romance proceeds, although Thalia is seeing at least one other guy and Leif claims he is secretly involved with the president of the Beverly Hills High School abstinence club. Meanwhile, Denise, who is overbearing but almost likable for her lack of pretension, sets Henry up on a blind date with Todd. It is love at first sight, but Todd lives with his mother and has not told her he is gay. Along the way, Henry helps Denise's stepsons see the light and Thalia reveals big news. Another romantic comedy from the always clever Lipman.Author tour to New York, Boston/New England, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547336084
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/4/2010
  • Pages: 305
  • Sales rank: 975,715
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Elinor Lipman

ELINOR LIPMAN is the author of ten novels, including The View from Penthouse B and The Inn at Lake Devine; one essay collection, I Can’t Complain; and Tweet Land of Liberty: Irreverent Rhymes from the Political Circus. She lives in Massachusetts and New York City.


Elinor Lipman began writing fiction in her late 20s, when she enrolled in a creative writing workshop. Since then, she has written a string of bestselling novels, as well as short stories and book reviews. Her books are more than just romantic comedies; Lipman writes entertaining characters who enlighten the plot with their human idiosyncrasies.

Her first release was a collection of short stories, titled Into Love and Out Again (1986). This charismatic collection of stories contains early elements of the thing that would make Lipman a loved novelist: finely drawn characters and page-turning plot twists. The theme of these sixteen stories is the stuff of modern domestic life -- marriage, pregnancy, weight gain and true love.

When Lipman released Then She Found Me (1990), Publisher's Weekly called the debut " enchanting tale of love in assorted forms ... a first novel full of charm, humor and unsentimental wisdom." When 36-year-old April Epner suffers the death of both of her adoptive parents, she seeks solace in her quiet, academic life as a Latin teacher in a Boston high school. Bernice Graverman is April's opposite. She's a brash, gossipy talk show host who lives her life with all the tranquility of a stampede. She's also April's birth mother. Lipman's story of their mother and child reunion is unforgettable.

In The Way Men Act (1993), Melinda LeBlanc returns home to Massachusetts to work in the family business. She finds a friend in neighboring shop owner, Libby, and has a one-sided love infatuation with Dennis Vaughan, another small town shop owner. Lipman takes on small town values by portraying the story's interracial relationship with wit and intelligence.

Filled with surprising friendships, Isabel's Bed (1995) tells the story of Harriet Mahoney, a writer at the end of her rope. When Harriet's long-term lover leaves unexpectedly, she moves from Manhattan to Cape Cod for an unusual writing assignment. Harriet has agreed to write the life story of tabloid darling Isabel Krug, a vivacious woman who earned her fifteen minutes of fame for her role as the other woman in a high-profile murder case. Their unusual partnership is the basis for this twisting, hilarious comedy of friendship and trust.

The Inn at Lake Devine (1998) is loosely based on a true story. The serious issue of anti-Semitism is treated with humor -- something Lipman is able to do so wonderfully in all her novels. When Natalie Marx's family is denied entry into the Inn at Lake Devine in Vermont, she plans revenge. But her plans are complicated by a friendship with Robin, fiancé to the son of the Inn's owners. Lipman's deft treatment of the play between discrimination and friendship creates a novel whose characters and setting may as well walk straight off the pages; and readers will find themselves laughing at the most serious of issues.

A committed spinster, Adele Dobbin is reunited with the man who left her at the altar thirty years earlier in The Ladies' Man (1999). Nash Harvey arrives, unannounced of course, on Adele's doorstep, and brings chaos into the lives of Adele and her sisters (also single, aging baby-boomers). In a rousing game of sexual politics, Nash unintentionally forces the sisters, particularly Adele, to examine their desires. Five distinct plot lines weave together seamlessly around Nash and his haphazard, womanizing lifestyle.

Sunny's homecoming in The Dearly Departed (2001) is equally life-altering. When her well-loved mother passes away, an entire small town mourns her departure. Back at the scene of her unhappy teenage years, Sunny dreads facing her former classmates, employers and so-called friends. What she finds is unsettling, but in a healthy way: the small town and its citizens are not nearly as malicious or clueless as she mythologized. Likewise, she realizes, neither was her mother. In a touching blend of social commentary, family drama and romantic impulses, Sunny learns that you can go home again.

The Pursuit of Alice Thrift (2003) is classic Lipman. Serious and shy, Alice aspires to be a philanthropic surgeon, using her skills for charity more than personal gain. That is, if she can make it through the rest of her medical internship. Alice is shaken (and confused) when she falls in love with an eccentric, foul-mouthed fudge salesman. But don't expect too much sentimentality here: Lipman gives away the ending in the first chapter, telling readers that the relationship was kaput, but the fun in reading this book is discovering why the two characters even glanced at each other in the first place. It's a great read -- Lipman places Alice on an unthinkable, yet totally believable path and we get to watch her find her way through.

Good To Know

In our interview with Lipman, she shared some fun facts about herself with us:

"I was nearly fired from my second job, which was writing press releases for Boston's public television station. I couldn't do anything right in the eyes of my newly promoted and therefore nervous boss. I quit after three months, one step ahead of the axe, feeling like an utter failure."

"Tom Hanks and his production company have optioned my fifth novel, The Ladies' Man. Robert Benton (Bonnie and Clyde, Kramer vs. Kramer, Nobody's Fool, Places in the Heart, Billy Bathgate, The Human Stain) is signed on as director and screenwriter."

"I was runner-up for the Best Actress award at Lowell High School in Lowell, Massachusetts, class of '68, after playing Gabrielle (the Bette Davis role) in The Petrified Forest and Elaine (the ingénue/niece) in Arsenic and Old Lace. And I was grievance chairman for the staff union when I worked for the Massachusetts Teachers Association in the late 1970s. Both of these inclinations come in handy to this day."

"I knit all the time."

"I wear a pedometer, aiming for five miles a day -- don't be too impressed; that includes walking around my house and food shopping. Sometimes I walk no farther than my own driveway because I can hear the phone ring -- 12 round-trips equals one mile."

"I cook quite seriously, which I think is an antidote to the writing -- i.e., I finish the project in an hour or two and get feedback immediately."

"I watch golf on television, although I don't golf -- except for visits to the driving range in spurts."

"I wake up at 6:00 a.m. no matter what time I go to bed."

"I was a roving guard on the Lowell Hebrew Community Center's girls' basketball team all through high school. My specialty was stealing the ball, but my only shot was a lay-up."

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    1. Hometown:
      Northampton, Massachusetts, and New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 16, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lowell, Massachusetts
    1. Education:
      A.B., Simmons College, 1972; Honorary Doctor of Letters, Simmons College, 2000

Read an Excerpt

I Hate You Still
Henry archer did not attend his ex-wife’s husband’s funeral, but he did send a note of condolence. The former Denise Archer wrote back immediately and urgently: Would he believe, after twenty-four reasonably happy years, that life as she knew it had been snatched out from under her? Her postscript said, “Your number’s unlisted. Call me,” and there it was, a bridge he’d never planned to cross.
     His quiet greeting, “It’s Henry Archer, Denise,” provoked an audible sob. She quickly clarified that it wasn’t bereavement he was hearing in her voice, but relief, a sense she’d been thrown a lifeline.
     “Me?” he asked.
     Could he stand hearing the whole sordid story? Had he known that Glenn Krouch had two sons from another marriage? Because they were getting everything, every last thing except the clothes, the furs, the jewelry, and one signed Picasso, which was only a pencil sketch. Was he sitting down? Because some famously heartless lawyer had set twenty-five years of marriage as the watershed anniversary after which the prenuptial agreement would deem her long-suffering enough to be a true wife (voice crescendos) and not some piece of shit! It was, in the opinion of two lawyers (husbands of friends, not their area of expertise, should she get a third or fourth opinion?), a hideously airtight legal document. And now these stepsons were taking the will so literally, as if twenty-four faithful years didn’t render a pre-nup null, void, and vicious. How many times had she asked Glenn if he’d updated his will, meaning, Am I in it? To which he’d always said, Yes, of course.
     The “of course” amounted to a monthly allowance under the thumb of older son and executor, Glenn Junior. Horrible! And so much for Glenn Senior’s famous love for Thalia! Henry remembered Thalia, didn’t he? Another indignity: Thalia’s portion was in trust until she was thirty-five. How condescending and sexist was that? Had she mentioned that these sons, not even thirty-five themselves, were not only Glenn’s favorite children but his business partners as well? And who but she, their reviled stepmother, had arranged every detail of the black-tie party celebrating the addition of “& Sons” to all signage and had invited the boys’ mother and seated her at the head table?
     She’d helped raise these stepsons since they were eight and ten, buying bunk beds and electronics for their alternate weekends, enduring camp visiting days and humid swim meets. In some families, the ice might have melted; young Glenn and Tommy could have developed warm filial feelings toward her as years went by and the marriage appeared to make their father happy. But apparently nothing mended a mother’s broken heart like sending the second wife to the poorhouse.
     If only she’d known . . . well, she had known. She’d signed the hideous document, thinking divorce was the only thing she had to fear. Besides, who thought Glenn with his good stress tests and low blood pressure would die at seventy? The boys got the business, its buildings and outbuildings, and the unkindest, most ridiculous bequest of all: Denise’s marital home, the five-bedroom apartment on Park Avenue! Could Henry even imagine what it was worth now? Her friends said the noninheritance was ante-diluvian, like a Jane Austen movie or a Masterpiece Theatre mini-series where the male heirs get to throw the mother and daughter to the wolves.
     Infuriating and unfair! One would think that she, the second wife, was single-handedly the home wrecker, no fault of -Daddy’s, because of course he had made restitution with cars, then condos, then partnerships. Who could hold a grudge this long? If only she’d had a job that had contributed to her own upkeep and toward the mortgage payments. Were there mortgage payments? She wished she’d been paying better attention to that, too. Admittedly, ten rooms were too many for a woman living alone. But wasn’t downsizing a widow’s prerogative? Three real estate agents from one office, all clucking their condolences as they took measurements, had spent hours counting closets and flushing toilets, exactly two weeks and one day after Glenn’s funeral. And yes, the sons did offer something like an extension: Denise could stay as long as she paid the common charges and the taxes, which, conveniently for her new overlords, exceeded her monthly -allowance.
     “I wish you’d been there,” Denise told her ex-husband.
     “At the wake! If my friends hadn’t seen it with their own two eyes, they’d never believe that Nanette crashed the receiving line, wearing a black suit that screamed I’m the widow, too. Yes, I hugged her and yes, we looked like one big happy family in mourning, but I was numb. I didn’t mean it! I was on widow -autopilot.”
     “Maybe,” Henry ventured, “Nanette was there to support her children.”
     “All I know is that the minute I turned my back, that self-appointed chief of protocol, Glenn Krouch Junior, pulled his mother into the receiving line. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so utterly alone.”
     “Thalia wasn’t there?” Henry asked.
     “Thalia was there. Thalia chose to stand at the other end of the line.”
     “Who knows why daughters do these things? I can’t keep track of my maternal shortcomings. She and I . . . well, never mind. Needless to say, we weren’t speaking before that and we’re not speaking now.”
     “I’m sorry. One would think, especially on that day?—”
     “I should have had a child with Glenn, a flesh-and-blood Krouch. And when I think that I viewed his vasectomy as one of the original selling points?—”
     “Selling points in favor of your extramarital affair?” asked Henry. “How soon did that come up? The night you met?”
     “Oh, hon,” said Denise. “Is that always going to be a sore subject? Even though you’ve made peace with your sexual -orientation?”
     I hate you still, he thought.
How odd to be his ex-wife’s confidant. Henry has done nothing to advance a rapprochement, but Denise has called him daily to rant further about greedy stepsons and the breadline. Her chumminess and her invitations suggest that he is a safe companion for a widow, that a gay ex is something of a status symbol, that her betrayal is not only ancient history, but has been absolved by his subsequent sexual homecoming. When Denise pauses for breath, he asks about Thalia—location, job, marital status, content of their last communication, and particularly what Thalia understands of the short-term father named Henry Archer who didn’t fight for her in court. Invariably Denise, the new woman who has declared herself a work in progress, changes the subject back to Denise.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 28 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2009

    Pitch Perfect

    I have long been a fan of Elinor Lipman, and I think this book is her best yet. The quirky characters that are her signature are drawn with a light hand and a tender heart. Even the annoying character is given sympathetic treatment. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, and the rest of the book had me smiling. The family that is created in this novel is so unconventional that it makes perfect sense. This book is truly a joy to read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Wonderful Book

    This book was much better than I expected. The characters have depth and the story line is rollicking but highly enjoyable. You wind up rooting for ALL the characters, no matter how annoying they are because they are so human. Highly readable and highly recommended.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2014

    Tyler to Evie

    ,=Line finished. Im making a song.
    It goes like this: A rock in the water sinks to the deep, but you and me float to the surface.A secret so hidden and hard to keep,her head on my shoulder we're thinkin about past and the present, there are many things kept to hearts content,like the memories weve spent together, but love is a different thing.
    (Guitar solo)

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2010

    A Stylish Tale

    This novel is highly stylized without being cloying or annoying. The characters are endearing and the story is scaled to life. Hilarious and heartfelt.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2014

    Nice and Fun!

    Cute book! so many personalities and bizarre adventures..made me jealous!! it proves, anyone can be a just have to want it!

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  • Posted May 14, 2014

    Clever but Inconsequential

    The Family Man represents a "light" read that may satisfy someone looking for summer humor. I found it somewhat quirky, sometimes enjoyable, with characters I probably won't remember very long.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2014


    Hello son

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  • Posted March 21, 2013

    This is sort of like Sex in the City with gay protagonist; I wou

    This is sort of like Sex in the City with gay protagonist; I wouldn't say the characters are "realistic" or in any way "down to earth", but they sure are fun. I greatly enjoyed this novel about 2nd chances for family.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    A quirky,fun little read

    This is acute story. Great light reading. Interesting characters, fun premise. Definitely worth a read.

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  • Posted December 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The Family Man Rocks

    I loved this book because it was funny and topical. Elinor Lipman deals with the topics of divorce, blended families, and homosexuality beautifully. The plot is witty and the ending is wonderful. Todd's and Henry's relationship was written well and I liked Thalia. Denise is bananas but she works in the story. I would recommend reading The Family Man.

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  • Posted August 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Elinor Lipman does it again!

    I'd fallen in love with two of Elinor Lipman's books, The Inn at Lake Devine and Isabel's Bed, and read as many of her others as I could find, following those. I was a bit disappointed in the last two I'd read , My Latest Grievance and The Pursuit of Alice Thrift, so I was a bit hesitant to read The Family Man. I actually stayed up half the night reading because I was so drawn into the story and the characters. I loved the relationship development, especially between Thalia and Henry. One of the things I love most about Elinor Lipman's writing, is that there's always a sense of familiarity with her characters - they remind me of my own family and friends - I felt like these were real people being written about, fully fleshed out characters. I highly recommend starting this book early enough in the evening, that if you have to go to work the next day, you'll be able to get to bed on time. I finished it in just one evening - fast paced and engaging. The last time I did that was reading The Wife by Meg Wolitzer, which I also recommend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2009

    So So...

    VERY light, a bit disappointing since critics gave this book high marks.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Another good outing by Lipman

    I'm a big fan Elinor Lipman. Her books are funny and always a page turners in good story telling. My favorite is still The Inn at Lake Devine.

    The story does start off a little slow but does pick up and doesn't disappoint. I laughed a little more this time than with her previous outings.

    If you're looking for something to delve into or just a beach read, then this is it.

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  • Posted July 11, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Delightful fun: A great read for summer, and any other season, too.

    "The Family Man" is a delightful, funny read, with quirky and charming characters. Lipman is a master of making her characters come alive through their dialogue and interaction. I loved that Henry, the narrator, was so smart, gracious and witty even in his initial loneliness. And it was entirely believable that Henry should fall under the spell of Thalia, who is just charm personified. Todd, and his mother, and even nutsy Denise are irresistibly engaging. The characters are drawn so well you "buy" the goofiness of the plot and have a great time going along for the ride. I actually didn't want it to end, and I'm thinking about rereading it already just to spend time with the characters again.

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  • Posted June 29, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Another lovely social comedy from Elinor Lipman

    Elinor Lipman writes stories about relationships with a wonderful light touch and a continuing theme - what goes around comes around. I think this story of a man trying to connect with his lost adopted daughter is one of her most delightful. The mother character will remind you of the mother in And Then She Found Me. My only complaint is that it is a very fast read and then we have to wait a long time for another one.

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    Posted January 20, 2011

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    Posted May 26, 2009

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    Posted June 13, 2009

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    Posted April 10, 2010

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    Posted December 22, 2013

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews

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