Book Review: 'Carrying Albert Home'

Friday, October 16, 2015

Homer Hickam. William Morrow, 398 pp. $25.99

Sometimes things line up in a serendipitous way. The Spencer Public Library is showing "October Sky" on Oct. 26, which is based on the memoir "Rocket Boys," also by Homer Hickam, the author of this week's review book. This wasn't planned, I can assure you.

I haven't read "Rocket Boys," but I think, especially after reading "Carrying Albert Home," I can understand what made it popular enough to turn into a movie (the movie was released at a time when it wasn't a guarantee that a reasonably well-liked book would be adapted for film). Hickam's writing style is honest yet still hopeful. He's somewhat whimsical, but he's grounded enough not to require the reader to suspend his or her disbelief too far.

"Carrying Albert Home" is a novel based on the story of Hickam's parents, the older Homer Hickam and Elsie Lavender Hickam. As a younger woman, Elsie lived in Florida and even got to know the actor Buddy Ebsen. When Elsie moves back to West Virginia and marries the coal miner Homer, Buddy sends her a baby alligator to remind her of her Florida days. Elsie names the reptile Albert, and raises him as her pet.

Years later, Albert is not the small animal he once was, and Homer is forced to issue her an ultimatum: him or Albert. Thus begins the journey -- Homer and Elsie pack Albert in their car and, along with an anonymous rooster they somehow pick up along the way, take him back "home" to Orlando.

As with all great journeys, they have unique experiences and meet plenty of interesting people along the way. The magic of the story is in this -- the story is about the journey, not the destination. Through this adventure, they find more than they expected both about each other and about themselves.

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