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.
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com