MR. IVES’ CHRISTMAS is the story of an unprepossessing man, an illustrator for an advertising firm whose life is irrevocably altered a few days before Christmas in 1967 by three pistol shots from a fourteen-year-old stranger. The defining event of Edward Ives’ life, the gratuitous slaying of a young man who was soon to enter the Franciscan order tests the father’s faith and reveals his character.
A foundling deposited on the steps of a Brooklyn orphanage at the age of four, Ives was adopted at six by a widower who was himself a foundling. With frequent allusions to Charles Dickens, the laureate of foundlings and of Christmas, MR. IVES’ CHRISTMAS is constructed not around an intricate concatenation of events but rather the textures of seven decades in the life of one lambently ordinary man. “A secular life of good deeds, with an allotment of mistakes” is what Mr. Ives imagines for his son Robert, what he accomplishes for himself. What Hijuelos is trying to accomplish is something rare in serious contemporary fiction, the representation of goodness. He manages to avoid both sentimentality and sarcasm in portraying a man who aspires to decency.
MR. IVES’ CHRISTMAS is punctuated with experiences of transcendence, moments in which a character is graced with intimations of something that illuminates an otherwise muddled existence. The most significant occurs just after Mr. Ives is trapped in an elevator, when, standing on a street corner, he is overwhelmed by mystical euphoria. Despite setbacks and self-doubts, Hijuelos’ unlikely hero resists the temptations of bitterness, vengeance, and despair. Committed to the liberal premise that no life is incorrigible and that those blessed by fortune should try to assist the rest, Mr. Ives befriends his son’s imprisoned killer. The novel’s muted climax is the final meeting of the two, a moment of understated grace.
Sources for Further Study
Boston Globe. November 5, 1995, p. 70.
Chávez, Lydia. “Cuban Riffs: Songs of Love.” Los Angeles Times Magazine, April 18, 1993, 22-28.
Coffey, Michael. “Oscar Hijuelos.” Publishers Weekly, July 21, 1989, 42-44.
Houston Chronicle. December 3, 1995, p. Z20.
The New York Times Book Review. C, December 3, 1995, p. 9.
The New Yorker. LXXI, August 21, 1995, p. 126.
San Francisco Chronicle. October 29, 1995, p. REV3.
The Washington Post Book World. XXV, December 10, 1995, p. 2.