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Mr. Ives' Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Mr. Ives' Christmas (1995)

by Oscar Hijuelos

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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 |
Recently, Paul Elias wrote an article in the NYT Book Review entitled “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith”. He states that “if any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature”. Interestingly enough Oscar Hijuelos wrote in response that in fact, his book Mr. Ives’ Christmas refuted Elias’ claim. Indeed, Mr. Ives’ Christmas is at once a very contemporary and very ancient story. By the way, there are no spoilers in this review, since the pivotal incident in the book is described at the beginning of the book.
Major events in Edward Ives’ life all take place around Christmastime. An orphan, he is adopted during the holidays by a very kind man of deep faith who instills in Ives a love of both tradition and religion. As an adult, Ives meets the love of his life and together they build a family and a happy life surrounded by good friends. He meets increasing success and fulfillment in his career and all the while, maintains his devotion to his church and beliefs. He relishes accumulating family memories as well the conventions and ceremonial trappings of religion (music, Christmas cards, etc) and almost as a reflection of these mementos, takes pride in his collectibles, notably a first edition signed copies of novels by Charles Dickens.
He shares his love for the church with his family and is very pleased and proud when his son decides to become a priest. After holiday shopping with his wife, one Christmas, he returns home to find that his son has been the fatal victim of a random shooting. He questions his fundamental beliefs and his faith and his life are shattered. This is the story of how he deals with this tragedy, and the nature of his faith.
The reconciliation between divine power and innocent suffering and the question of why bad things happen to good people has been the subject of discussion since (and probably before) the writing of the Book of Job and is an issue that is addressed in every culture and in every faith. Like Job, Ives is surrounded by friends who attempt to address his grief either through retribution or explanations for the tragedy. Like Job too, Ives also experiences a theophany when after a frightening experience, he leaves his Madison Avenue office and has a vision of a gigantic sun and a multi-colored wind. Ives learns to live with faith that isn’t grounded in reason. His clarity doesn’t come from certainty or tradition, but ultimately from passion, compassion, and the courage to embrace spirituality.
Hijuelos may have written about profound concepts, but his writing style is straightforward, quiet, at times humorous, occasionally magical and always very engaging. He is, at heart, a storyteller, but his story leaves one with much more to think about. It is a marvelous book ( )
2 vote plt | Jan 20, 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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