Mr. Ives’ Christmas
by Oscar Hijuelos
Mr. Ives’ Christmas is a melancholy tale that emphasizes the grayness and coldness of winter. One may not want to actually read it at Christmas depending on whether one’s outlook on the holiday tends to be on the darkish side or not. I read it this past spring, and although most of the story does not actually take place at Christmas time, the setting and tone did seem incongruous with the bright world outside the book. It was quite an enjoyable read however. The story definitely centers on Mr. Ives who is a rather formal, albeit sentimental, man so that the author’s consistent referring to him as Ives or Mr. Ives does not seem unnatural. Ives is passionate about only three things – his Catholicism, sex with his wife (an intensity that somewhat befuddles him) and his son. Unfortunately this beautiful, holy boy is murdered a day or so before Christmas when he was only seventeen and about to enter the seminary (this is the opening of the book so is not a spoiler). Hijuelos takes Ives back to his early childhood as an orphan and brings him forward to the present day to show how this monumental event affected his entire life. And more to the point, his soul.
There are no theological controversies in the book, and no critiques of clergy, religious or Church hierarchy. The story concerns one man’s overwhelming grief and how his spirituality does or does not enable him to handle it. Mr. Ives’ Catholicism is more emotional than rational, but the author points out that this makes his faith more vulnerable to tragedy. Yet, it is this child-like emotionalism combined with an unfathomable mysticism that vies with the rationalism which overtakes Ives after his son’s death.