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BOOK REVIEW: Carrying Albert Home

A cross-country odyssey has Kerre thinking.

By Kerre McIvor
According to the author, this delightfully quirky story is a “somewhat true” tale of Homer’s mother Elsie and his father Homer Snr, and their journey across the US from West Virginia to take Elsie’s pet alligator back to Florida.
It’s hard to believe that all of the adventures involving Elsie, Homer and Albert the alligator are even somewhat true.
Homer Hickam Jnr grew up hearing stories from his parents that sounded incredible, but he found it difficult to reconcile his experience of his taciturn, coal miner father and his perpetually disappointed mother as the reckless buccaneers in his family’s history.
As his mother lay dying, Homer told her how much he’d loved hearing the stories but begged her to tell him what really happened. “We did them all,” she whispered. “Even when we didn’t.”
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how much of the tale has been embellished because in Homer Jnr’s novel, his parents’ odyssey becomes a love story.
Homer Snr has always loved Elsie, but Elsie has never wanted to live in a coal-mining town. She escapes to Florida to stay with her rich uncle and falls in love with Buddy Ebsen, who wants to become an actor.
When her boyfriend goes to New York in pursuit of fame and fortune, Elsie returns to Coalwood and marries Homer. She writes to tell Buddy that if he returns to Orlando, she won’t be there as she’s married a man from her home town.
Buddy sends her Albert, the alligator, with a note. Albert becomes a constant reminder of all that Elsie has given up and when Homer demands that she make a choice between him or the alligator, Elsie is torn. She decides that if she can get Homer to leave Coalwood for Florida, maybe, just maybe, he’ll be more like the man of her dreams.
What follows is a delightful story of a couple who love one another but have to learn to live together. It makes me wish I had more interesting stories from my past to tell my daughter!
Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam, Harper Collins, RRP $34.99.

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