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Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature


Michael Opitz, English


The novella Spaces Off takes place during the months of August through November of 1990 in Estes Park, Colorado. It is about Lily, a fourteen-year-old girl, who is trying to find acceptance and identity in the midst of various familial and social crises occurring all at once. The crises feed off each other, creating a tense environment from which Lily only manages to escape by cooking, cleaning, organizing, and trying to make things "right" in the ways she can. While this is going on Roger (military-minded, basketball coach Dad), Rose (high-strung, estranged older sister), Sandy (Dad's chain-smoking, well-meaning girlfriend), and Lily go to painful lengths to avoid direct confrontation of their problems, so communication is often in codes, easily misinterpreted, and always awkward. When Rose comes home after four years of living in California by their absent mother whom Lily doesn't remember, it is creepy how they all adjust and adapt through ways they know how to be "normal." Operation Desert Shield and Rose's reappearance parallel each other in that they are both two elaborate productions that carry with them a set of emotions that Lily is supposed to feel. With the Gulf situation, Lily is supposed to feel patriotic, scared for the troops, or a sense of impending doom. With Rose's return, she is supposed to feel a sisterly connection with Rose. In both cases, her feelings are neither black nor white—she is trying hard to conform to these situations, but much of the time ends up feeling rejected or let down. As the situation in the Gulf gets more tense and threatening of war, Dad is quicker to lose his temper and drop his own "bombs" on Lily. Lily is constantly trying to make sense of people who send her mixed messages: Rose coming and leaving, coming and leaving; Dad affectionate and angry for apparently no reason; Lily hearing that her mother is alone and scared and wanting to talk to her, only to discover that her mother isn't interested in a relationship with her. The darkness of the story is relieved when Lily manages to find goodness, beauty, and hope in unexpected places. She escapes into her own world, symbolized by the constant buzz of the refrigerator, her "space off," a place outside of her family structure. It's a story of survival, on many different levels, and what exactly a kid in the throes of early adolescence does to help herself, and identify a place within and without the structure of the family. It's a story about a group of people related by blood and a few photographs, but not much else, who try to act out the roles of family members.