Pull up a seat to Stella Lei’s word table with her collection Inheritances of Hunger. It feeds the soul in five story courses: “Games,” “Changeling,” “On Building a Nest,” “Graftings,” and “Meals for the End of the World.” Throughout, she serves hunger and inheritance in sensory details, emotional touchpoints, and unflinching prose.
In the first course, “Games,” Lei explores hunger and traditions through a seemingly simple childhood competition with unexpected phrases like, “Sheathing our hunger in earth.” Facts about animal hunger are featured in the second story “Changeling” with nature themes that are also infused throughout the collection.
“Moths lack stomachs, and thus mostly drink liquids like nectar. An African elephant only has four teeth. Goldfish may eat each other when under stress.”
In the third story “On Building a Nest,” Lei’s incorporates hunger and traditions in a visceral coming-of-age story.
“That evening, when I asked about dinner, she told me if I went long enough without food, I could shrink my stomach into a fist.”
In the fourth offering “Graftings,” the opening line becomes a personal lens for the compact collection, “Hunger never came naturally to me.”
The fifth story is written in listicle form, almost a menu. Lei offers tiny sensory bites: cherries, bubble gum, loose change, songs and blood. The closing line encapsulates hunger and inheritance with signature Lei surrealism.
“I part my lips to the fractured sky. Now, I can swallow for two.”
I read and reread each story as if I was returning to a favorite food or meal. I kept going back to Lei’s poignant phrase from “Changeling.” That hunger moving through generations and traditions defines Lei’s characters’ lives but in reading the collection, we think about our own inherited and gained hungers.
“Hunger inherited and amplified on the way back.”
Find out more about the book here: Inheritances of Hunger
Amy Cipolla Barnes has words at FlashBack Fiction, X-R-A-Y Lit, McSweeney’s, Popshot Quarterly, The Molotov Cocktail, The Citron Review, JMWW Journal, Lucent Dreaming, Anti-Heroin Chic, Flash Frog, Janus Literary, Cabinet of Heed, Spartan Lit and many other sites. She’s a Fractured Lit associate editor, Gone Lawn co-editor, Ruby Lit editor, and reads for Narratively, Taco Bell Quarterly, Retreat West, CRAFT, and The MacGuffin. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, and longlisted for the Wigleaf 50. Her debut flash collection “Mother Figures” was published by ELJ Editions in summer, 2021. A full length collection AMBROTYPES was published by word west in March, 2022.