CARRYING ALBERT HOME
By Homer Hickam
HarperCollins Publishers/Paperback/ 432 pages/$30.41/ Books Kinokuniya/4/5
A man and his wife set off on a 1,600km-long adventure to carry their pet alligator Albert to a more appropriate habitat.
Along the way from West Virginia to Florida in the United States, the couple witness a bank robbery, get caught up in the transport of illegal goods, are roped into a Hollywood film and endure the wrath of a hurricane.
Oh, and a rooster pops up now and again during their journey, plopping itself comfortably atop Albert's head.
The novel is split into nine parts for each major stop in the couple's journey. Evolved from the whirlwind tales told by the author's parents during the Great Depression - the elder Homer Hickam and Elsie Lavender Hickam are the protagonists here too - it is a blend of fact and fiction.
For most of the more than 400 pages, however, I chose to believe that it is all true. Hickam's simple and charming way of writing makes for an easy read. More than once, I found myself exclaiming over a surprising revelation or chuckling at the recurring assumption by other characters that Albert is a crocodile.
Hickam's simple and charming way of writing makes for an easy read. More than once, I found myself exclaiming over a surprising revelation or chuckling at the recurring assumption by other characters that Albert is a crocodile.
Adding to the feel-good quality of the book is how Albert can make a yeah-yeah-yeah happy sound or no-no-no grunt.
Hickam, a former National Aeronautics and Space Administration engineer, cleverly weaves in the larger notion of kismet in comfortable and effortless storytelling. In fact, I would not be surprised if the novel were adapted into a film. Hickam's 1998 memoir, Rocket Boys, was made into the film October Sky (an anagram of Rocket Boys) a year later, starring a 17-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal as Hickam himself.
At times, however, the couple's exploits tip over into sheer implausibility. For example, they keep running into famous figures, such as American author John Steinbeck. Still, with a read this good, does it matter what really happened and what did not?
Carrying Albert Home is an uplifting reminder that some questions are better left unanswered - all the better for the imagination to take over.
If you like this, read: Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam (Fourth Estate, reprint, 2015, $21.04, Books Kinokuniya), the first in a series of four memoirs on the author's life growing up in a mining town and his aspiration to be a rocket scientist.