Mr. Ives’ Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

Mr Ives Christmas

Mr. Ives’ Christmas    

Oscar Hijuelos (Adult Fiction)

It was around Christmas when a young foundling named Edward was given a home, a family, and a last name.  His adoptive father, Mr. Ives Senior (a foundling himself), managed a printing plant and gave his new son two brothers and a sister, provided him with a good amount of encouragement, and—most importantly—taught him how to pray.  While growing up, Edward basked in the cultural richness that surrounded him in New York during the 20s and 30s.  By the 1950s, his creativity landed him in a Madison Avenue ad agency where he worked, thrived, and would eventually retire.  His simple and humble life would involve marriage, children, delight and despair and through it all, Edward will come to realize that the life he imagined for himself is very different from the life that he’s been given.

Oscar Hijuelos delivers a beautifully written novel that is vividly detailed and rich in historical insights and context, yet I found myself disappointed and wishing that I had enjoyed this book more.  First, it was difficult connecting with the main character.  Hijuelos often interjects various characters’ backstories throughout the book.  This was helpful in creating history and perspective, but the constant interruptions ultimately sacrificed intimacy for insight and greatly hampered the flow of the story, which leads to the second point.  It was extremely challenging to stay immersed in the story.  Rather than focus on a central theme, this book read more like a series of random thoughts, insights, and memories.  Hijuelos simply went off on one tangent too many and the book becomes a regrettable product of information overload.

This book mainly centers on New York and spans over several decades.  In that respect, it was interesting to see a city in constant transformation and evolution during the cultural, political, and social movements of the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  I also appreciated the spiritual issues that Hijuelos covered without being overtly religious.  We see Edward’s struggle to reconcile his religion with his faith and the eventual effect it has on his physical and mental health.  But through life’s tragedies and triumphs, Mr. Edward Ives remains a sentimental, kind, and honorable man, father, husband, and friend who realizes that Christmas isn’t his story, but it’s His story—the babe born in a manger who would die on a cross.  Although Edward often finds himself grappling with a life full of uncertainty and anguish, through his faith and belief, Mr. Ives finds peace in knowing that his afterlife is secured and in good hands.  Merry Christmas, Mr. Ives.

Rating: 3/5

* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

 

Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith

Joy in the Morning

Joy in the Morning

Betty Smith (Adult Fiction)

            “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

                                    —Psalm 30:5

 Carl Brown and Annie McGairy are young and deeply in love.  Just past her 18th birthday, Annie travels from her home in New York to the Midwest to join her beloved in marriage.  Much to their mutual surprise, Carl and Annie’s first year proves to be unexpectedly difficult.  Carl is attending the university studying law and holding down several jobs while Annie tries to adapt to her new surroundings without the security and familiarity of friends and family.  Together, through lean times and unforeseen events, they must rely on their faith and love to pull them through.

What I admire most about Smith is that she gives us a strong, witty, and self-assured female character without diminishing her male counterpart.  All too often we see one character being lowered for the sake of elevating the other.  Despite their differences in education and social standing, Carl and Annie view each other as equals and share a mutual respect and passionate devotion for one another.  This alone is refreshing to see in a novel.

Set in 1927, Smith presents us with a small university town populated with principled (albeit flawed) people who all share a strong work ethic, solid moral compass, and innate desire to be decent, kind, and fair to their fellow man.  Her stories are charming and heartwarming without being overly sentimental or trite. A truly uplifting book that focuses on the goodness of humanity rather than its faults and follies.

Rating: 4/5