Short Story Review: NEITHER FRUIT NOR FLESH, by R.J. Barker


Some time ago a fellow blogger mentioned the FANTASY HIVE site, a place for all things related to speculative fiction in its many forms: news about upcoming books, movies and tv shows, interviews with authors, and so on.  Amid such bounty, it stood to reason that some short stories would find their place for our enjoyment, and the very first of these stories to be published on Fantasy Hive was Neither Fruit Nor Flesh, by R.J. Barker, author of the highly acclaimed Age of Assassins, one of the best debut novels of 2017.

Unexpectedly, it was not a fantasy-themed story – which shows how wrong we are when we believe an author could possess only one kind of ‘voice’ in their narrative set of skills: Neither Fruit Nor Flesh starts as a mainstream tale, and then step by step it slides seamlessly into horror.   The unnamed main character, a young woman slightly obsessed with her appearance and even more with cleanliness and healthy living, has an accident while she’s out running: her head turns at a sudden noise, she collides with some hedge plant on her path and a thorn pierces her face near one eye.

According to the doctors who treat her, there was no damage and once the eyepatch covering the injury will come off, she will be as good as new, but she starts to obsess about the extraneous material – the filthy material – covering the thorn that might have entered her body, contaminating its carefully maintained health.  What starts at this point seems to be a journey into hell fueled by a hygiene-fixated frame of mind, one that colors the young woman’s awareness so much that it ends up affecting her perceptions of herself and the world she lives in.

That is, until the story takes a very, very unexpected turn, one that ends in a scene that is as startling as it is horrifying, despite the equally weird build-up until that moment.  Horrifying and very well done.

My thanks to Fantasy Hive for this welcome gift, that I’m sure will be only the first of many.


My Rating: 

22 thoughts on “Short Story Review: NEITHER FRUIT NOR FLESH, by R.J. Barker

  1. Currently listening to the Age of Assassins audio book. Would be nice to try a different genre by the same author.

    I do keep meaning to do more Short Read Sunday posts … things like this would be perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been intrigued by Age of Assassins but intimidated by its length (and the fact that it’s pretty far outside my wheelhouse). A short story seems like a very good way to test the waters of R.J. Barker before diving into a full-length novel!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This story is completely different from Age of Assassins, so I’m not sure it would be a good samples of Barker’s fantasy work. What I can tell you is that you will not be bothered by the novel’s length, because the story is so immersive you will find yourself at the end in no time at all 🙂


  3. When I saw the name RJ Barker, I immediately thought, HECK YES I need to check this one out! How awesome too that it’s a horror story instead of fantasy. Now this I really gotta see…also, speaking of Barker, I just started Blood of Assassins today, woohoo!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m glad you loved RJ’s story as much as we did at the Hive! I had the pleasure of hearing him read it out loud, too, and can confirm that the man is indeed a genius.

    Liked by 1 person

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