Monday, January 18, 2016

Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam

Reviewed by Ambrea

In Carrying Albert Home, Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickam Sr.—the future parents of author Homer Hickam Jr.—were high school classmates in West Virginia, before Elsie traveled to Orlando whereupon she met Buddy Ebsen, a dancer and actor (and, most notably, fell madly in love) and Homer set to work creating a life for himself in his hometown.  But when Elsie’s relationship with Buddy falls apart, Elsie returns to West Virginia and, much to her surprise, finds herself married to Homer.

To remember her carefree days in Florida, Buddy sends Elsie a wedding gift:  an alligator named Albert who lives in their bathtub.  But when Homer experiences an embarrassing (and, he claims, near fatal) incident with Albert, he gives Elsie an ultimatum—either he goes, or the alligator does.  Given some time to consider her options, Elsie decides she will return Albert to the Florida Everglades.

Elsie and Homer’s trip to Florida quickly turns into an adventure they won’t soon forget.

I enjoyed Carrying Albert Home.  It’s a sweet, quirky story (as foretold by the subscript) about two people making an oddball journey through the south to return an incredibly expressive alligator to his natural habitat.  I mean, it can’t get any stranger than that.  Okay, well, it can—and, frequently, does—as Elsie and Homer Sr. stumble across bank robbers, bootleggers, rioters, smugglers, serial killers, and all manner of sundry creatures on their journey south.

I also should note that I loved Albert.  He is, I think, the best alligator I’ve ever encountered in literature—but, then again, he may be the only alligator I’ve encountered thus far in my reading.  Nevertheless, I liked him (and the rooster, whose purpose is never fully explained) and their wild journey from West Virginia to the Sunshine State.  Their story, while highly unusual, is simultaneously hilarious and fun; more importantly, it’s never boring.

Hickam has a storyteller’s prose, weaving a tangled story of suspense and adventure and, ultimately, love.  Moreover, he manages to create wonderful characters that are sure to entertain readers.  Such as the odd, comically villainous duo of robbers Homer first encounters, or the bootlegger with whom Elsie spars.  It’s a strange gathering of people and animals that left me laughing and shaking my head for the absurdity.

As I was reading, I learned to like Elsie.  Headstrong, defiant, inventive and, yes, courageous in her own way, Elsie was a fascinating female character; however, I have to say I adored Homer Sr.  Although Homer is a simple man—a coal miner by trade whose only aspirations are a steady job and a happy family—he is a smart man who is loyal to a fault and loves Elsie with all his heart, even if he can’t always express it.

A lesser man wouldn’t have bothered with a trip to Florida; a lesser man would never have faced bank robbers, rioters (with dynamite), bootleggers, poetry-writing serial killers, smugglers, or hurricanes; a lesser man wouldn't have fought so hard for a woman who wasn't sure of her feelings.  It’s a sweet, though admittedly weird, love story that made me wonder from chapter-to-chapter, but I enjoyed it overall.

Although I enjoyed Carrying Albert Home, it is a very unusual book.  I don’t know if the author intentionally made certain parts of his novel vague, or if he was attempting to give depth and symbolism to Albert’s journey (or if he was merely having a laugh at his own story, which I’m more inclined to believe), but, either way, I often found myself thinking Elsie and Homer’s journey to Florida was much bigger than I understood—which often left me thinking I’d missed something.

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