Oscar Hijuelos, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1990 for his splendid rendition of a life going sour, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989), presents, in Mr. Ives’ Christmas, the somber Mr. Ives. Mr. Ives sanely goes through his life with no malice toward fellow man or woman. He seeks the rewards of work and patience that he has become accustomed to earning, but one date, Christmas Eve, consistently seems to interfere with his life.
Hijuelos, born in New York City, grew up in a humble, immigrant Cuban family. At age four, he was exiled from the family by nephritis, a kidney inflammation that crippled his youth with a two-year quarantine from home and loved ones. Perhaps that near-orphan status inspired Hijuelos to develop the Edward Ives of this novel. A widowed printmaker visits the orphan Edward Ives on Christmas Eve, and, a few Christmases later, adopts him. His adoptive father idyllically rears the dark-skinned child, inspires him to pursue his love for drawing, and eventually guides him to the Arts Student League where he meets, on Christmas Eve, his future wife.
The picture postcard family image is shattered when, on Christmas Eve, the Ives’s seventeen-year-old son is gunned down as he leaves church choir practice. A fourteen-year-old Puerto Rican kills the boy for ten dollars. Mr. Ives devotes his life to obsessive, unerring attempts to rehabilitate the murderer. Symbolically, Mr. Ives’ favorite book is a signed copy of British novelist Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843). Hijuelos strongly relies on this book to link the two tales. The author emulates Dickens’ populous canvases and uses his love of coincidence and contrivance as a metaphor for God’s mysterious workings. The temperance of Mr. Ives allows him a longing for grace, a gift for contemplation, and a steady curiosity.
Hijuelos draws heavily on images from his New York neighborhood, his coterie of friends, and the milieu of gangs, muggers, and dope addicts at the end of his street. Differing from his other novels, Mr Ives’ Christmas leaves no doubt that Hijuelos speaks of faith; a faith that mysteriously probes emotions, tested by death and the opportunity of forgiveness.