A contemporary mystic of ‘closet religiosity’ writing about faith in the 21st century and much missed as a novelist. From the NYT:
In his memoir, “Thoughts Without Cigarettes,” Mr. Hijuelos referred to “my closet religiosity.” Despite a nearly fatal bout of kidney disease as a child, he wrote, “I truly believed that His presence was as certain as the air I breathed.” Even amid the counterculture of the 1960s, he cherished Christmas celebrations with his best friend’s family.
That believer’s sensibility struck Ms. Carlson, who married Mr. Hijuelos in 1998, from their very first encounters.
“People didn’t understand the depth to which Oscar went to that place he believed was the place of faith,” she said in an interview last week. “He was not just spiritual but religious. On our first date, we talked about faith — what we believed about God, about afterlife.”
“Mr. Ives’ Christmas,” though, was not merely a celebration of faith. It was a parable of faith tested by tragedy. When Mr. Hijuelos finished the manuscript, which Ms. Carlson had been reading and editing as it progressed, he told her one of its wellsprings.
“The root of that novel was a real story,” she said. “When Oscar was growing up in his neighborhood, one of the families that was very close to his family lost their boy. He was shot. And it was a senseless, tragic, horrific murder, and Oscar never forgot it. And the dignity of the family and the way they dealt with it stayed with him.”
Another essential moment in the novel takes place when Edward Ives, strolling through Midtown Manhattan on an ordinary day, experiences a rapture: “the very sky filled with four rushing, swirling winds, each defined by a different-colored powder like strange Asian spices.”
It is the image that Mr. Ives comes to doubt yet also depend upon in the aftermath of his son’s murder. And it is an image that Mr. Hijuelos himself saw, according to his longtime friend and fellow writer Philip Graham.
“I remember having a number of conversations with him about the vision,” Mr. Graham said last week. “He said this event had happened, it had in his adult life, and he didn’t know what to do with it. And this book is an answer to the question, ‘What do you do when you’ve been given a vision?’”