Book Review - "Evil Never Sleeps" by Robert Fleming

Evil Never Sleeps
Reading a collection of short stories by a master of the form is one of the great literary pleasures, especially when the writer treats his work as a set of variations on a powerful theme yet manages to make each story as unique as a snowflake.

A good writer is like a musician, a pied piper of words who leads you, heart and mind, into places you might not have gone otherwise.

A steady bass beat pulses through Robert Fleming’s narratives as he deftly examines the point of our lives and the sometimes sad and uncanny ways our fragile hearts, societal norms, and changeable beliefs determine our destinies. His writing demands readers to think about these things, even as they are lulled with stories ranging from funny to horrifying.

Fleming understands groundbreaking writing might be upsetting. He knows great literature is not polite, doesn’t shove uncomfortable things in closets, and doesn’t care about your feelings. It only asks that you feel.

Evil Never Sleeps is a daring, sometimes unsettling portrait of the Black experience throughout history that hits on fundamental truths. Linked by strong themes, this is a story collection done right. Some of the stories might make you flinch, but it is hard to look away. The writing burns with raw, elemental power. The characters are complex and compelling, and the writing is sharp and brave. Fleming’s dark, captivating imagination shines in this wildly diverse collection that is both gripping and timely.

This collection gives readers compact treasures of emotion and realism often wrapped in a deceptive cloak of normalcy. Though Fleming’s stories are worlds unto themselves, each is a grand carnival of the troubling and absurd; the beautiful and the profane blend to form a whole that speaks to the discord and disillusion, hope and triumphs of the Black experience.

Rich with novelistic density, Fleming’s stories make Evil Never Sleeps a full-fledged feast. Observational and piercing, some of Fleming’s stories expose how fraught, and emotionally explosive, our search for connection with other human beings can be. The range of settings, characters, and styles makes for a recurring sense of surprise for the reader.

Evil Never Speaks is a wry, intelligent collection that skillfully navigates the boundary between the demands of faith and the persistence of doubt. In seizing upon the oddities of our shared histories and our enduring, individual searches for meaning, Fleming finds worthy subjects to illuminate at every turn. Soldiers, musicians, traveling preachers, politicians, religious zealots, the famous, and the ordinary all rub shoulders here, each asking you to sit awhile and listen or to walk in their shoes until you understand them.

Plenty of writers have explored racism and the failings of man. However, Fleming, a writer who feels like the novelist equivalent of filmmakers Spike Lee and Robert Altman, has managed to write stories on the subject that feel fresh. His characters often mess up, in both small and spectacular fashion, but their transgressions often prompt our sympathy, thanks to Fleming’s insightful narration. These are tales that make you think, squirm, and sigh with understanding. What more could any reader ask for when immersing themselves in the world of a writer’s mind?

Robert Altman said to play it safe is not to play. Somehow, I am quite sure Robert Fleming would agree.

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