It is 1973. A Berkeley household of six people, all in their twenties, are trying to change the world. Like many of their peers, they work a double shift, one for wages, the other for love—at food banks, women’s collectives, draft counseling centers. They also are entangled with each other, in affection, exasperation and sorrow.

It is January of 1973. The Paris Peace Accords have been signed, but civilians and soldiers are still dying in Southeast Asia. Roe v. Wade has just been decided, but women are still coming to clinics, desperate and bleeding. The poverty rate is falling, but children are still arriving at school without breakfast. The nuclear threat still looms and the cost of disregarding the environment is rising.

The household decides to embark on a grand gesture to save the world, not one of those misspent actions involving makeshift bombs or bloody heads, but one that will speak to people who have not yet recognized how serious the world’s trouble, how possible its redemption. The action involves risk—two of the house members are already in legal difficulty and will have to go underground to avoid prosecution. And another faces pain, even death. Still, they are determined to go forward.

Except Cherise. Cherise is by nature careful and observant;  she believes that the United States and the world it inhabits will transform slowly, one person at a time. She declines to participate in the action the household has planned, but the group persuades her to document the action: in what spare time she has, she is a photographer. And a collector of things: she keeps copies of the newspaper clippings, the press releases, even the hate mail that follows.

It is 2011. Cherise is turning 60. Jessica, a young anthropology professor, the daughter of someone who observed that action, so many years ago, is writing a book about it. Cherise opens up the boxes of files and journals that she has had since 1973, looks at her old photographs, and tries to find the others, whom she has not seen since that terrible day..

What has it meant to each of them, this day that defined their lives? What have the politics of that time come to mean among North Americans today? Cherise’s project—and the project of the novel—is to find out.


Our lives are mapped by stories—stories we tell ourselves, stories inherited from our parents, stories absorbed from our historical circumstances. We use these to navigate through our lives, for better and for worse. In Telling Time, two women come to terms with the narratives that have haunted them and reinvent their lives in unexpected ways.

Lupe Colorado is the daughter of a political activist, Inez Colorado, who died in jail after a group of activists she led occupied a state park where a park ranger was killed.  Lupe relocates from the Southwest to California’s central coast, but she is still unnerved by questions from her childhood: Why are her memories so patchy? Why did the protest turn violent? Who killed the park ranger? Why did Lupe’s father disappear? Why won’t Lupe’s grandmother tell her what she knows?

Connie Bridges is a reporter whose father has also disappeared from her life; her life is marked by her search for him and by the untold story of his absence. Connie struggles to resolve issues with infertility, to honor the painful stories her sources tell her, and to recover from a strained first marriage to an earnest but insufferable environmentalist.

Only when their lives intersect—and fuse—are they able to uncover the secrets that haunt them and to make sense of the hidden strands in their own lives and others.