In The Time of Our Lives, nonagenarian Elliot Schubert combines truth and fiction in thoughts and memories of the past to create an insightful collection of 30 short stories that chronicle the joy, sorrow, and wisdom that surround a near-century’s lifespan.
Through warm, conversational first-person narratives, Schubert relates a variety of events and escapades, from the opening tales of “Saturday Matinee” and “The Rialto,” recalling adolescent awkwardness and the tempting mysteries of a glove-wearing burlesque stripper, to the “hurry up and wait” ventures of boot camp and the unknowns of married life and career.
While most entries run 6 to 8 pages, “Peaceful Coexistence” plays out a bit longer to triumphantly showcase Schubert as a college student reconciling differences with a roommate of German descent. In fact, Schubert’s strong Jewish heritage lends depth to the writing. “Life As A Jew” acknowledges the need to stand against anti-Semitism, while the light-hearted “Pickles and Bagels” is a testament to Jewish soul food.
Although most stories move at a leisurely pace and come to satisfying resolutions, some endings seem forced or cliché. Consider the author’s chance meeting with actress Judy Garland. Gifted with an autograph and a free viewing of The Wizard of Oz, Schubert finds himself drifting off to sleep hearing the refrain “there’s no place like …”.
Schubert adds texture and variety with a sprinkling of tales delivered as third-person narratives. “The Jordans” is a somber view of a young man’s difficulty coming to terms with his sexuality. In contrast, “The Miracle of St. Peter’s” provides a more positive outlet for a father and son long estranged by the son’s homosexuality.
This entertaining collection mixes the somber and the sweet. While most of the stories are gilded by Schubert’s personal reminiscence, their heart and humor embody endearing and universal qualities. With many references to a bygone era, the book is most likely to appeal to an older generation appreciative of such relatable memories.