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Mr. Ives' Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Mr. Ives' Christmas (1995)

by Oscar Hijuelos

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Mr. Ives’ Christmas - Oscar Hijuelos (248 pages)

When we first meet him in the 1950’s, Mr. Ives is a devoutly religious man who, despite his beginnings in a foundling home, has fashioned for himself an enviable life. A successful Madison Avenue advertising illustrator, Ives is married to a vivacious, artistic woman, Annie, who shares his aesthetic passions and religious beliefs. Together they raise their children, Robert and Caroline, with remarkable fair-mindedness and moral judgment.

Ives, who knows nothing of his own natural ancestry, is profoundly drawn to the Spanish cultures and language that have begun to flourish in 1050’s New York City. Even after he has risen to vice-presidency at the advertising agency, he continues to live in his unfashionable neighborhood in Upper Manhattan because he feels at home among his multi-ethnic neighbors, especially his closes friend, Luis Ramirez, and his family.

But Ives’ perfect word is violated when seventeen year-old Robert is gunned down by a teenage thug at Christmas, just months before the young man is to enter the seminary. Having once considered himself as possessing “a small, imperfect spiritual gift,” Mr. Ives finds himself lost without his son, doubting not only foundations of his life, but his belief in God. Overwhelmed by grief and threatened with a loss of faith in humankind, Ives must wrestle with his doubts and struggle to regain spiritual peace, perhaps even embracing the troubled young man who stole Robert’s promising life.
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
From the book jacket: Mr Ives has a successful career in advertising, a wife and two children, and believes he has achieved the typical American dream. But that is shattered when his son Robert is killed at Christmas. Overwhelmed by grief and threatened by a loss of faith in humankind, Mr Ives questions the very foundations of his life.

My reactions:
I came across this book only because my Hispanic book club was looking for a Christmas book. I’d read Hijuelos’ Pulitzer-winner The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love before, but had not heard of this work. I loved it, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was a Pulitzer finalist in 1996. It is a lovely, contemplative novel – a character study and philosophical exploration of one man’s search for spiritual peace.

Ives (yes, he has a first name – Edward – but he’s always called Ives in the book) starts his life as a foundling, and is adopted by a man who was also a foundling. He never really knows his background – is he Italian? Cuban? Greek? – but he finds a great affinity for the people in the Brooklyn neighborhood where he is raised, and comes to know the Spanish-speaking workers in the printing plant where his adoptive father is a foreman. Hijuelos paints a picture of a gentle man, with a quiet strength born of his circumstances, and of the influences of both the Church and his adoptive father. It is through them that he learns to love and to endure.

There is much sadness in this book. Certainly the murder of his only son is a horrific event (and one which is referenced very early on, so is no spoiler here). But there are also the kinds of daily disappointments and sorrows any one of us might encounter – a friend’s accident, a burglary, a loved one’s illness, a financial setback. These are balanced by the joys of life – blossoming love, great friendships, camaraderie, favorite books, the birth of a child, or success at work. And that balance, that sense of perspective is what this beautifully written novel is all about.

A couple of quotes:
Of course, while contemplating the idea of the baby Jesus, perhaps the most wanted child in the history of the world, Ives would feel a little sad, remembering that years ago someone had left him, an unwanted child, in a foundling home.

A family photo evokes this:
He loved that photograph because he and Robert were holding hands, and although they did not look particularly alike, they were standing in nearly identical positions, their feet planted wide apart, and each regarding the other with a slightly tilting head, eyes a little sad and enchanted at the same time, smiles nearly forming on the edges of their mouths.

A different view of a city snowfall:
Then they rested, side by side, on the frigid pavement like dummies, wistfully looking upward at nature’s swirling activity. A kind of magnificence, heaven, as it were, coming down on them.”

The quiet love between a husband and wife:
She remembered a time when, without saying a word, she would have a sad thought and he, sitting by an easel or by his drawing board, would somehow know. Putting aside his brushes or pen, he would throw on a jacket and step out to hunt down some chocolates, which she loved, and a bouquet of flowers.

I will be thinking about this gem for a long time, and I’m certain I’ll re-read it.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 14, 2016 |
“Glorious life ending. There must have been a moment when his son had gasped for air, the last time, as Jesus must. But as Jesus had risen, he wanted his son to rise up, organs and spirit and mind intact, and everything to be as it had been not so long ago.”

When Mr. Ives teenage son is shot down in the street - everything shots down in Ive’s life too. Grief is overwhelming and he becomes a spectator of things happening around him - uninvolved, disinterested. He and his wife drift apart. He struggle to hold onto his faith in God, wrestling with doubt and despair. But slowly we see him come back to life and faith again.

In flashbacks we follow Ives. Almost from birth to grave (or at least as an old man). As an adopthed child, his friendships and first love and happy marriage to a wonderful woman full of life.

Hijuelos’ prose is beautiful, nostalgic, dreamy - full of references to classic literature, music and art. ( )
5 vote ctpress | May 24, 2014 |
Another wonderful Oscar Hijuelos novel-- so different than "Mambo Kings" yet so powerful. Hijuelos has done what thousands of sermonizers and preachers could never do. He has exemplified faith through the story of a real man in a real world with real problems. Edward Ives is not perfect and his struggle to find God is not dramatic - it takes his entire lifetime, but a simple faith sustains him. I'm not Catholic, but this story demonstrates how the church and those that are a part of it can be God's instrument in an imperfect world -- just the opposite of the tremendous beating the church has taken recently. "Mr. Ives' Christmas" is a beautiful story, the people are real, and the theme is profound. The author has made a powerful statement in a calm & quiet manner. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 16, 2013 |
I loved this book. A huge and sweeping in scope, taking in life, death, love and loss, spiritual ecstacy and loss of faith - in fact everything - and all done in the most understated way. There isn't a spare word in it, but it isn't in the least bit sparse. Ending is both incredibly sad, but magnificent and uplifiting at the same time. An amazing piece of work that I recommend wholeheartedly. ( )
  Helenliz | Apr 1, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060927542, Paperback)

Hijuelos' novel tells the story of Mr. Ives, who was adopted from a foundling's home as a child. When we first meet him in the 1950s, Mr. Ives is very much a product of his time. He has a successful career in advertising, a wife and two children, and believes he is on his way to pursuing the typical American dream. But the dream is shattered when his son Robert, who is studying for the priesthood, is killed violently at Christmas. Overwhelmed by grief and threatened by a loss of faith in humankind, Mr. Ives begins to question the very foundations of his life. Part love story--of a man for his wife, for his children, for God--and part meditation on how a person can find spiritual peace in the midst of crisis, Mr. Ives' Christmas is a beautifully written, tender and passionate story of a man trying to put his life in perspective. In the expert hands of Oscar Hijuelos, the novel speaks eloquently to the most basic and fulfilling aspects of life for all of us.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:30 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In New York, a father's worst nightmare arrives just before Christmas when Edward Ives learns his son Robert, 17, was murdered in the street for $10 by another teenager. The novel describes his coming to terms with his loss. By the author of The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.… (more)

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