Mr. Ives’ Christmas ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
Oscar Hijuelos (1951-2013) was one of the best contemporary American writers. He was the first Hispanic writer to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for his great novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. His 1995 novel Mr. Ives’ Christmas is a study of loss and the search for meaning and reconciliation.
Edward Ives has a job as an art director in a New York advertising agency. He has a wife, a son, and a daughter. He has deep religious convictions, instilled in him from his adoptive family, convictions that he passes on to his two children. His son, Robert, is a pious and intelligent boy who intends to become a priest. In 1967 when Robert is seventeen, he is senselessly murdered on a New York street right before Christmas by a fourteen-year-old thug named Daniel Gomez.
As a devout Catholic, Mr. Ives believes it is up to him to forgive Daniel Gomez. As a man, however, with religion removed from the equation, he has to ask himself this question: How can I forgive the ignorant scum who, on a whim, snuffed out the life of my son, a boy infinitely superior in intellect and purpose? Does Mr. Ives set an example to others with his forgiveness, or does he give in to his human instincts and immerse himself in hatred and vengeance?
Characteristically enough, he reaches out to Daniel Gomez in prison, sending him books and encouraging him to learn to read and write. He believes that, if somebody had only given Daniel Gomez a break in his early life, his son Robert would still be alive. His friends, on the other hand, think he’s crazy for wanting to help his son’s killer and inform him that, for as little as a few hundred dollars, a person can be dispatched to kill Daniel Gomez, and the scales of justice will be balanced.
In this book, as in life, there are no easy answers. There’s no satisfactory, Hollywood-type ending. The death of his son is something that Mr. Ives is not ever able to recover from; he carries it over into his old age. He has some satisfaction in knowing that Daniel Gomez gets his life straightened out to a certain degree, gets married and has children and is repentant for the terrible things he did. For himself, though, his own life is shattered, and nothing can change that except his own death.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp