A Robin Redbreast in a Cage

      R.P. Burnham
A Robin Redbreast in a Cage

A Robin Redbreast in a Cage is a novel about a teenaged girl taken from her alcoholic and promiscuous mother and sent to live with her uncle, a tyrannical fundamentalist minister. The only non-fundamentalist she befriends in high school is Jeremy Lawrence, a boy whose father was killed in a car accident; years later they serendipitously meet again.As he does with his earlier novels, Burnham takes his time in skillfully creating his characters so that by the end, the readers know them inside out, down to their raw hearts. Some characters suffer a transformation; others don’t; but each word and action count and stay true to them, making them distinctive. Most fascinating about this story is the mind-splitting moral debate that goes on inside Charlie’s mind at every second as she tries to fight her uncle from totally controlling and brainwashing her like he’s already done to his family. ... Charlie’s story ... pulls the reader in, and this reviewer was anxious to see what was going to happen to her — and whether or not she’d end up having a happy ending like she deserved. Jeremy’s character, while also sympathetic, is somehow less interesting than Charlie, who is obviously the star of the show. The hypocrisy and evil of religion and conservative governments is a recurrent theme in Burnham’s novels, such as On a Darkling Plain and The Many Change and Pass. Other questions explored in the novel include what it means to be a good Christian and the role of women in Christianity. If you’re interested in fiction dealing with social issues, this is an author whose works you’ll definitely want to read. — Mayra Calvani

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    The Many Change and Pass

      R.P. Burnham
The Many Change and Pass

The novel begins with the mercury poisoning of a small, impoverished boy and follows Chris Andrews, a ecological activist, Myron Seavey, a progressive librarian, and a dozen other characters, including the women Chris lives with in a house in Portland and the brother of the poisoned boy, Malcolm Kimball, who drops out of school, as they all deal with the implications of this poisoning.“Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.” This passage from the funeral service in The Book of Common Prayer is justly famous because it a beautiful expression, in stately Elizabethan prose, of the human condition. Given these limitations, how we spend our time on earth becomes the choice confronting every human being. Most people, like the Kimball family in this novel, are too preoccupied with daily survival to give much thought to larger issues and the common good. Others, like Ned Ridlon, are too self-absorbed in the pursuit of money and power to care. But there are always people like Myron Seavey and Chris Andrews who do fulfill Hamlet’s description of a human being as one who has “such large discourse/Looking before and after,” people who are fully conscious of their human duty to try to make the earth and the life it sustains, both human and nonhuman, better than they found it. The contrast between these two men is one of the central focuses of the novel. Myron Seavey, the inheritor of a Quaker-Unitarian activist background, is open-minded enough to fall in love with a conservative Republican woman. Chris Andrews, in contrast, is single-mindedly and overweeningly a green activist who does not believe in compromise with those whose selfishness would destroy the earth for quick profit. The action, which takes place in a small town in Maine and in Portland, begins with the mercury poisoning of a little boy and entails a wide canvas of other characters, including Adam Kaminski, who in the manner of the French eccentric Facteur Chevel builds a strange hybrid temple; Patti Ryan, a decent, progressive woman who loves Chris Andrews; Donna McClellen, who at first lives with a rock musician and who tries to convince her friend Virgie that her troubles would be lessened if she helped others at a soup kitchen; and Rev. John Covington, who is visited by doubts after a stark pastoral conversation with the sick Adam Kaminski. Finally, Shelley’s line from Adonis (whence comes the title of the novel), “The One remains, the many change and pass,” gives rise to a further question that the novel explores: who or what is the One that remains?

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    The Guy in 3C and Other Tales, Satires and Fables

      R.P. Burnham
The Guy in 3C and Other Tales, Satires and Fables

The book is a mixed bag of satire, mordant and/or playful wit as well as other forms of non-realistic fiction. Targets include American historical blindness (The Guy in 3C”) , obsessive social correctness (“A Breach of Decorum”), greed (“The Reminder”) and literary pomposity (Litbiz Magazine Interview)The book is a mixed bag of satire, mordant and/or playful wit as well as other forms of non-realistic fiction. One has an upper class man obsessed with propriety and decorum who gets his comeuppance; one, exploring a major problem with democracy, is in the form of a gothic chiller; another takes the form of a medieval tale; two are bird fables roughly in the tradition of Aesop; another a satiric take-off on literary interviews. The title piece satirizes American ethnic identity and its unawareness of history. Most are humorous in spirit, though of course they have an underlying seriousness. There’s even one about an alcoholic, mentally ill street person and a man who had a near-death experience that is structured as a dialectic with a thesis, antithesis and synthesis. And so on. The poet and editor Sonja Skarstedt said in a review of the book when published in 2000 that the collection is “a witty, humorous and enthralling blend of tales” and that the “stories have a distinctive, even sharp-edged narrative tone, with undercurrents of the recognizable, rich tradition.” Arnold Skemer in a review in ZYX #24 (2001) observed that “I've been accustomed to Burnham's essays in THE LONG STORY but hadn't realized that he turns out fables and satires, and has a nasty little wit.”

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    Envious Shadows

      R.P. Burnham
Envious Shadows

This is a novel about a black and white relationship in a small Maine town that explores the many forms of prejudice, particularly that of a racist Nazi group that hounds the couple and causes tragedy, but also many other external ways--class, religion, sexual orientation, even appearance and personality-- that people use to unfairly judge others.Lowell Edgecomb returns home to Maine after a successful career in Chicago and an unsuccessful relationship. At a friendly softball game he meets Fiona Sparrow, the daughter of a single mother and a black father. He is drawn to her shy sweetness, perhaps because like her he too is a child of a single mother and has long felt an empty space inside because of it. But their relationship meets resistance from a local racist Nazis group at the same time Lowell’s half-brother, Bill Paine, becomes ensnared by another softball player, this one a predatory female, Marilyn Prence, who causes Bill to betray his wife and little child. These two chance meetings at a friendly softball game lead in twisted paths involving many other characters to both tragedy and redemption while the novel explores the many external ways—race, class, religion, sexual orientation, even appearance and personality—people judge each other.

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