Homer Hickam is the author of Rocket Boys, inspiration for the movie October Sky, and his newest book, Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of A Man, His Wife, and Her Alligator, is as crazy as it sounds.
A prequel to Rocket Boys, Carrying Albert Home puts together all of the stories that Homer’s parents, Elsie and Homer, have told him over the years about their trip from their home in West Virginia to Florida, carrying with them the alligator that was a wedding present from Buddy Ebsen and a rooster who hitched a ride for reasons left unknown.
After being bitten by Albert one too many times, Homer finally tells Elsie, “Me or that alligator.” Unwilling to let Albert go in the creek, afraid he’ll freeze to death in the West Virginia winter, Elsie decides the only thing to do is to carry Albert home to Orlando. So Homer and Elsie pack up their Buick and head south, with Albert in a washtub, $100 borrowed from Homer’s boss at the coal mine, and enough food to last them the trip.
On their way south they run into all sorts of troubles, including bank robbers, striking mill workers, bootleggers, and a hurricane, and many famous names, John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway among them. It’s hard to know what really happened and what’s exaggerated, for as Elsie tells her son when he asked about all of the things she’s told him, “we did them all, even when we didn’t.”
Elsie takes a couple of days to decide what to do about Albert before they leave, and her ambivalence about her marriage and how she really feels about her husband are clear throughout the book. Homer’s quiet manner is the opposite of Elsie’s big personality and she’s also still stuck on Buddy, even though deep down she knows they’ll never be together. The trip to Orlando serves another purpose, other than bringing Albert home, as Elsie has to finally come to terms with what — and who — she really wants.
Carrying Albert Home is described as Big Fish meets The Notebook and that’s a pretty apt description. It’s a road trip story, a love story, and a fish story all rolled in to one, and it’s one heck of a ride.