Author speaks out: Why are “Boomers” a Reviled Generation? Authentic and Definitive Novel on 1968 Crushes Decades of Media Images

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It has been over a decade since Paul Begala lambasted America’s 77 million “boomers” as the “worst” generation. At Books, Inc. in San Francisco last night, Elise Frances Miller took on this claim with the calm poise of an author who knows she’s “got him.” Miller and her publisher, Tory Hartmann of Sand Hill Review Press knew A Time to Cast Away Stones was a story that needed to be told.

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"The worst generation? Really? All of us?"

The rampant media stereotyping dwells on the relatively small number of social and political radicals. Sexuality, drugs and violence sold more papers than exposing most college students’ day-to-day perseverance and sense of responsibility to get good grades, get into a good school and stay there.

According to Miller, “There has never been a novel that tells the story of that era from the point of view of an eighteen-year-old who loves her family, is shy and insecure, and whose world centers around making good grades and hanging on to her boyfriend. But these were the people I knew at Berkeley in the late 1960s. Were we spoiled? I don’t think so and I want to set the record straight.”

And yet Miller’s novel, A Time to Cast Away Stones turns out to be an incredibly stimulating story, and much more satisfying than painting the era in psychedelic colors. We get to know Janet Magill and her childhood sweetheart, Aaron Becker, as if they were kids on our own block. Janet’s brother is drafted and she worries that Aaron may be next. She decides to protest the war, despite her extreme discomfort in doing so. When her parents find out (no spoilers here), they yank her out of Berkeley and send her to Paris, never suspecting that the mythic city is about to erupt into the only true revolution a Western, capitalist democracy has ever experienced. This is the little-known but historically significant 1968 Paris May Revolution. Along the way, Janet falls in love with a secretive Czech dissident. This adds another dimension to Janet’s political and social education, and complicates her hope that Aaron will evade the draft and join her in Paris.

Miller’s contemporaries will find themselves dredging up and sharing memories as they read. Younger readers – some of Miller’s most engaged, according to early reviews – will enjoy an authentic account that finally presents what all the shouting has been about. All the shouting, and all the resentment that sparked Begala’s outrageous statement is there for personal analysis.

In an “Open Letter” in Esquire, Begala, a political strategist, TV commentator and disgruntled Clintonite, ranted, “The Baby Boomers are the most self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing generation in American history.”

With a wry smile, Miller asks, “All of us?”

From the ‘greatest generation’ to ‘millennials,’ few defend the 77 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964. AARP Bulletin contributor Marsha Mercer did refute the statement in 2011 in an article about the unprecedented number of boomers in volunteer community service.

So why are boomers so reviled? There are many reasons, such as the loss of the Vietnam War, but to Miller, one stands out. “Our generation claimed with some degree of arrogance that we would be the ones to bring peace, prosperity, and mutual acceptance to all. We held out such hope, raising the level of expectation impossibly high, ” Miller said. “Begala’s resentment is based in his media-falsified perception of universal action and in the inevitable failure of nirvana.”

Miller believes that her novel reveals what actually was different about her generation. “We blew the conversation wide open!” she claims. “We made people leave their comfort zone.”

From California to France, nobody had ever spoken so freely and so openly about so many forbidden subjects before. “In that new, open discussion, some saw arrogance and self-centeredness,” Miller said. “Or a willfulness that offended. But I’m proud of opening myself up to creative music, art, fashion, books, and solutions to difficult problems. And of finding language for new values. I argued passionately with my parents,” Miller reveals, “who voted for Goldwater in 1964 while I walked precincts for the Young Democrats. They would never have had those conversations with their parents.”

Miller admits that the late 1960s were not as easy as it sounds, nor always ‘fun.’ “In writing A Time to Cast Away Stones,” she said, “I simply wanted to compare memory with myth and to set the record straight. The vast majority of us were on the sidelines, stunned that our brothers were being drafted into a war the nation had little empathy for, questioning the reasons for being there, questioning the world we were presented with. Most of us argued in private, never demonstrated, followed the rules, got jobs and went quietly about our business. Tarring a generation with images of free love, psychedelic drug use and radical behavior removes responsibility from the leaders in the 60s who nearly brought us to the brink of annihilation.”

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