REVIEW OF "INHERITANCES OF HUNGER" BY STELLA LEI
There are many types of hunger, and endless ways to experience them. In her first chapbook, “Inheritances of Hunger”, Stella Lei writes about starvation, about denying yourself and being denied in turn, about disease and cravings and everything in between. Each of the five stories captures a fragment of life and the way hunger shapes it, from the childhood depicted in “Games” to the dysfunctional home erected in “On Building a Nest”. Characters sacrifice their skin, their sustenance, and their sisters in the name of survival.
Lei is a teen writer from Pennsylvania with prose and poetry in Narrative Magazine, Four Way Review, CRAFT, and elsewhere. “Inheritances of Hunger” creates a mosaic of stories which overlap and sing in chorus one with the other. Mothers fade in and out of the narrative of which daughters are the central themes, their relationships often fraught. In “On Building a Nest”, the mother starves her daughter, ensuring she will never fly away. In “Changeling”, one daughter helps her mother murder her sister. In “Graftings”, the older sister ensures the younger’s survival.
Disordered eating is a constant thread throughout the chapbook, from the calorie counting in “Games”, in which the characters “compare the hollowness of our skins” to the careful reckoning of protein in the post-apocalyptic world of “Changeling”. Readers who struggle or have struggled with disordered eating should be advised this chapbook deals frequently with these themes. Girls are forced and force themselves to lose their taste for food, occasionally while facing the end of the world as they know it. Growing up, especially in a time in which every tragedy is live streamed can sometimes feel like a series of apocalypses. Lei captures that feeling and spins tales of it, merging the personal and the universal. In “Meals for the End of the World”, the main character struggles to strike a balance between her own life and those of the mothers before her. In “Changeling”, the hungering disease blends with the main character’s relationship with her family.
“Inheritances of Hunger” conveys what it is like to want, to crave, to lack. It spins us stories of girls and young women in worlds that don’t understand them, that malnourish them, that make them fight to survive. Most of all, it captures the essence of hunger, and all the ways we learn to want for more.