A Time to Cast Away Stones

A Time to Cast Away Stones

by Elise Frances Miller

ISBN: 9781937818036

Publisher Sand Hill Review Press

Published in Literature & Fiction/Literary, Literature & Fiction/General

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Book Description

Janet Magill, a shy, straight-arrow Berkeley freshman, has compelling reasons to join the antiwar movement. Janet’s brother has been shipped off to Vietnam, and Aaron Becker, her childhood sweetheart, might well be next. When Janet’s parents banish her from Berkeley to what they expect will be a safe, idyllic springtime in Paris, she runs headlong into the 1968 May Revolution and along the way, falls in love with a secretive Czech dissident. From Berkeley, Aaron makes plans to evade the draft and join Janet, but loses contact as her “safe” year abroad turns into a dangerous coming of age.

Sample Chapter



In 1991, my son put me on notice. He was fed up with hearing about the 60s generation. “Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, and now there’s as much racism, poverty and war as any time in history, and you pathetic suckers dealt it out!” Operation Desert Storm had commenced, and I shuddered to think that if this Middle East “operation” lasted as long as the Vietnam War, my fourteen-year-old might have to replay my guy’s crushing 60s decision—draft or dodge. The right corner of his lip turned up in disgust and his pimply face swung side to side like a gate in the breeze, about to slam shut on me. Did he imagine that we’d all signed a malicious pact aimed at screwing up the world?

In the decade that Americans of several generations are obsessed with, whether it’s to love it or hate it, we had a war and social strife, but most young Americans believed that our country was a good-hearted place that had, from its inception, haplessly spawned evil inequities. Just like prior and later generations, most of us were focused on finding a lover or a spouse and learning enough to make a living. So why did the myth persist that our entire generation was deliberately and confidently revolutionary? 

When a TV movie called 1969 was released in the mid-90s, I gathered the family in front of the set to watch, hoping for some minimal support for my recollection about how naïve, frightened and passive I had been during my freshman year at UC Berkeley. Within minutes, I was on my feet, shouting “Everybody out! This is nonsense!” And then, of course, the family wouldn’t leave.

With entertainment objectives superseding the political ones, everyone in the film was a stereotype, speaking words designed to titillate. Girls were gorgeous and mindless, aggressive she-beasts craving “free love.” Guys–unless they were among the deluded soldiers and veterans–were either violent, grubby political radicals or violent, grubby drug addicts. Guys of all backgrounds were obsessed with not getting drafted—well, at least that part was true—but miraculously, they had acquired the ability to analyze every American blemish as if they’d earned PhDs in sociology. And courage! What bugged me most was the courage they all supposedly had: to change the way they looked, to expose themselves to loss of family and friendships, to attack and be assaulted physically, to risk everything for their ideals.

But I remembered. For most of us, it was not that way. Not for teenagers and college students in their early 20s. Out of over 7 million U.S. college students, estimates hover at only 40,000 demon-strating against the war. Then in January 1968, the Vietnamese Tet Offensive brought international aware-ness to the immoral and tragic mess stirred up by our leaders in Washington. Suddenly, at each demonstration, 10,000 to 100,000 people hit the streets, not just in America, but all over the world. The numbers grew from there and reached into mainstream society, but that was in the 1970s, when social revolutions for women, gays and other minorities were launched as well. Determined to find physical proof of the truth, I began pulling out old pictures and yearbooks from our Los Angeles high schools and UC Berkeley. Suddenly, there we were, thousands of trim-haired, neatly-dressed, conservative-looking young-sters, with perky, forced smiles, encased in identical inch by inch-and-a-quarter boxes for our children to snicker at. Only they did not snicker.

“Mom, this isn’t the 60s, is it?” our daughter spoke first. “I mean, these kids are all so conservative. Look at the short hair on the guys, and the girl’s hair. What are those little wings growing out from their cheeks?”

I laughed. “That was the ‘flip,’” I said. “That was the style.”

“They’re all so…so middle America!”

  “Look at you!” our son recognized my picture. My hair hung past my shoulders, wings nevertheless quite pronounced. I remem-bered pinning in the rollers at bedtime each night. Eyeliner and lipstick were care-fully applied, designed to construct a face like Natalie Wood’s—on the make, yet still an innocent young girl.

“What happened to hippies and commies and anger?” our son asked. “You all look like a bunch of nerds. You don’t look like you could fight your way out of a paper bag, let alone defy cops to save the world.” 

I came to put my arms around them both and drew them in with a tug. “This is real,” I told them. “Remember it the next time you see those more exciting versions in the movies.” But our son moved away from the yearbook, shrugged his shoulders and grew silent. Our daughter was still flipping through the book, disappointment furrowing her brow.

That was the night I decided to create a work of fiction to convey my recol-lections about how we looked, felt, struggled and persevered. How every day those conformists photographed in the Berkeley yearbook confronted awkward questions, beckoning quests, and critical decisions. And how all over the world in the spring of 1968, there was unavoid-able turmoil as abrasive as stone and change as unstoppable as time itself.       




The first time I saw UC Berkeley, I held fast to Aaron Becker’s arm with both hands as we strolled beneath Sather Gate and over to the side of Strawberry Creek bridge. Above us, the Berkeley hills shimmered in green and gold, the buildings rose white and majestic, and the promise soared as large as the picture on a giant movie screen—football games and fraternity parties and sunlit arms heavy with textbooks. Wasn’t I the lucky one to be on campus, a senior in high school visiting my college boyfriend for the weekend? Then, as I leaned against Straw-berry Creek’s retaining wall, a crisp paper flyer crackled against my hip. I glanced down at a boldface word—“protest”—and gave out with a startled “ohh.” But before I could back away for a better view, Aaron wrapped his arms around me. He stroked my hair and placed a strand neatly behind my ear. His warm breath on my cheek steadied my own. “Never mind about all that,” he whispered. “You’ll hear about it soon enough. I’m so happy you’re up here with me, Janet. Just let me hold you...” My heart pounded wildly at the mere thought that by next fall, I would join Aaron for his final year at the university. We kissed passionately, then once again more tenderly, as if to seal a bargain we had made about our future.

That sunny spring weekend in 1967, Aaron was my academic advisor, tour guide, and football buddy. I stayed in the dorm with the daughter of Mother’s friend. In the evening hours before dorm lockout, Aaron and I snuggled up on the broken-down sofa in his studio apartment, sipping Lancer’s rosé from juice glasses and listening to his hi-fi set. Simon and Garfunkel’s Homeward Bound awoke a feeling in both of us that here, together, would be our true home.

Aaron had been in the scout troop with my brother Matt from Cubs to Eagles. The gangly boy had grown tall, with a Paul Newman-tapered body, light brown hair and deep, dark brown eyes. For over six months, since we rediscovered each other on one of his vacation visits back to Beverly Hills High, Aaron had enchanted me with his stories about the magic of “Cal.” His campaign of long-distance phone calls and color postcards of bay views at sunset succeeded in their purpose, and I set my sights on Berkeley.

So, in the fall of 1967, I came north for my freshman year, cherishing a vague, Victorian version of romantic fulfillment. Like nineteenth century Daguerreotype portraits. Wedding cake couples, slightly blurry around the edges with touched-up blushing cheeks. From my dorm room on the sixth floor of Freeborn Hall, the San Francisco Bay spread out in front of me just as in those dozen or so “propaganda” postcards from Aaron that I’d saved in the bottom of my desk drawer. But my boyfriend couldn’t be with me all the time to romance me away from the grating reality all around us. His vivid descriptions of life at the “greatest public university in the nation” began to look like a Norman Rockwell with a shredded canvas, or worse, like one of those poor mangled people painted by Soutine or Munch.


On my first night as a college freshman, hours after the rosy sunset had turned to sludge over the Bay, my new roommate asked, “Do you support Johnson’s war?” Her voice was tight, as if something was bunched inside her throat. Her name was Barbara Borovsky, and she was from San Francisco. We had been telling each other about our high schools and families. Across the darkened room, talking between beds, it should have been easy to express the ambivalence that was in my heart.

     “Well…no…but I don’t think I know enough to tell them how to win it,” I replied.

“Then you believe it has to be won,” Barbara spat out. She was way too disgusted to be relaxing into a good night’s sleep. “How do you feel about the American military just making a quick exit, getting the hell out right now?”

“Well”—I always used words like ‘well,’ ‘perhaps,’ ‘I think,’ and ‘maybe.’ I had read in Cosmopolitan Magazine that those words signaled that you lacked self-confidence. So natch, I tried not to say them, but they continued to pop out. I stopped talking for a moment, and then I told her, “I just got to college. What do I know?”

Barbara was silent for what seemed like a long time, except for quick, deep nose breathing, like a girl running laps for gym class. Then, with a hard edge to her voice, she said, “If you don’t mind, Janet, let’s not talk politics in this room. No war. No politics. And no religion either.”

“But, you seem to be interested, and I’m not…not…”

“We have to co-exist here,” she said matter-of-factly. “And I, for one, have a very busy year planned.”

So that was my potluck roommate. Barbara Borovsky was short and stocky, with frizzy orange hair, and I soon noticed, she dressed in pants every single day. In a way, she was what I had always wanted to be: sure of herself. From the moment she stepped off the bus from her home in the big city across the San Francisco Bay, she knew what she wanted to accomplish at Cal. She was there to learn about societies and politics and to master effective writing and speaking skills. Her parents were against the war, and she fell naturally into a pattern of extracurricular activity that gave her a cadre of friends with a common purpose.

After that first night, Barbara was never mean, she just ignored me. I tried to accept the fact that I would never be my roommate’s friend. She would hear the words “snooty and superficial” in my high-pitched, little-girl voice, and see it written in my appearance—cashmere sweaters, long, wavy black hair, and green eyes that I emphasized with black eyeliner, just as I had done in high school. After all, I did think I made a more attractive impression that way.

But it bugged me. The distance between us was more than superficial. Underneath layers of hair spray and scalp, my gray matter felt like it was all wrapped up in one of those Ace bandages that protect sore muscles from movement. Barbara’s brain would contract, breathe, bleed and crackle, and it might just as well configure itself into a big electric neon sign that screamed, “Here I am!” Basically, I was scared to death of her. I went around ashamed of despising Barbara. I comforted myself with the assumption that she despised me back.

The second week of the quarter, I finally got up the nerve to talk to Aaron about Barbara Borovsky.

We were having coffee in the Bear’s Lair. Its woodsy ambiance seemed like a good backdrop for sharing. After sipping in silence for a few seconds, I set my cup down as if the heavy mug were made of rare porcelain. “I’ve got a problem.” I hesitated.

“I’ve got a solution,” he quipped. “Well, maybe. Try me.” He blew into his steaming cup.

“I’ve been assigned a radical for a roommate.”

Aaron’s head jerked up from his coffee. We sat next to each other in the booth, so he turned awkwardly toward me. Concern creased the space between his eyes. “Go on.


Excerpted from "A Time to Cast Away Stones" by Elise Frances Miller. Copyright © 0 by Elise Frances Miller. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Elise Frances Miller

Elise Frances Miller

Elise Frances Miller’s novel, A Time to Cast Away Stones, set during the 1968 Berkeley antiwar protests and the Paris May Revolution, is fiction - but her life has been pretty exciting in its own way. She was born in Los Angeles into a family of diehard Republicans. She annoyed them all when she joined the Young Democrats in high school. She was the first in her family to graduate from college, and she set her sights on the bastion of free speech, UC Berkeley. With her art history degrees from UC Berkeley (1969) and from UCLA (1972), Elise began writing as an art critic and reviewer for several well known publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Art News, The Reader, and San Diego Magazine, for which she wrote a monthly column. Other gigs have included high school and college instructor and communications director at San Diego State University and Stanford. In 1998, she and her husband moved from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been an on-and-off participant in the San Francisco Writers Workshop and is on the board of the California Writers Club, San Francisco/Peninsula Branch. A number of her short stories have been published in literary anthologies and internet venues. She served as guest fiction editor of The Sand Hill Review in 2008. You can learn more about the pivotal year, 1968, and her novel at her website:

View full Profile of Elise Frances Miller

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