Homer Hickam, for those of you who don’t know, is an outstanding author. I think that is more of a biased statement, as he is a local author where I’m from. Hickam is famous for his classic memoir Rocket Boys, which I highly recommend you read. In 1999, Rocket Boys was adapted into the critically acclaimed film, October Sky, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. I have spoken to Hickam at a local event, in which he has told me directly, twice, that the film adaptation ruined his life. Like countless authors, he hates the movie version of his book. Of course no one can blame him. I’d get personal if a big-budget Hollywood production company took my baby and butchered it into something completely unlike I envisioned. I personally like the film, as do almost everyone who has seen it. It’s by no means a cinematic triumph, just a "good little show". I will likely review it sometime in the future.
Hickam’s claim to fame has ridden entirely on the coattails Rocket Boys. Hopefully, that is only until now. He hopes that his most recent novel, Carrying Albert Home, will be a classic for generations to come. Hickam also hopes to spark the birth of a new book genre he has dubbed the "Family Legend" genre. Basically, the author writes an entire book about a legend in their family. The fact that it is a legend, allows the author to write anything he possibly wants to put in the story, "…some of which is untrue, but is all true."
Before talking about the novel, I must first talk about the physical book itself. The artwork on the dust cover is purely classic, capturing art style the period of the novel accurately. The painted image gives a physicality to what I’m about to read, rather than a vague, obviously corporate-designed cover I won’t care about.
Secondly, just look at the book without its dust cover. It’s meant to be a period book, and the colors and font on the cover capture this beautifully.
Moving inside, everything from the font to the artwork and photographs draw the reader in to something that is both special, and more personal than the average best-seller. In case the story itself wasn’t great enough already, the physical novel is a surefire keepsake for passing down many lines of generations.
Hickam’s "family legend" is a heartfelt story about his own mother and father as a young married couple. His mother, Elsie, owns an alligator she has named Albert, which was given to her by her youthful sweetheart, Buddy Ebson. Yes, that is the real Buddy Ebson who starred on the show The Beverly Hillbillies. Elsie has loved the alligator her entire life because of its connection to Buddy. Her husband, Homer’s father (also named Homer), grows tired of Albert running amuck around the house. When the final straw is played, he gives Elsie the choice between him or Albert. She chooses to take her husband, provided that they return Albert to Florida, where he belongs. Homer and Elsie pack their bags, and set off toward Orlando from their small town of Coalwood, West Virginia. From there, it’s a grand adventure through Depression-America filled with action, romance, joy, terror, and most importantly, love.
The novel is nothing but literary goodness. Not the hidden-meaning-philisophical-truths goodness; just goodness. In that, there’s no badness in it (the opposite of goodness). There aren’t any moments that drag, and every character is colorful and diverse. Hickam’s crass banter among the characters allows for great humor, and moment after moment that puts smiles on faces. Despite having an average page count, the novel seems long because of the numerous misadventures the characters get themselves into. Some are short, some are longer, but they all move Homer and Elsie’s story along. While it may appear that Albert is the star of the show, the alligator is implemented more as a backdrop to the arch of Elsie and Homer’s love for each other; questioning weather they do happen to still love each other, or not, and what alternatives they are willing to take without the other, if they are willing to resort to those alternatives at all.
This is what makes great story-telling. Two individuals, unsure of their love for each other, have to spend a thousand-mile journey together. It's more of a journey of self-discovery, while tangling in hilarious plots to meddle with their romance. The romance itself isn’t slow or forced, rather, it moves intertwining with the events of the story, to keep the plot rolling at a steady momentum.
Given that this is a family legend, Hickam is given flexibility to put whatever he wants into an already interesting idea for a story. That in mind, readers are in for some crazy stuff. Homer and Elsie encounter robbers, protestors, famous figures in American history, pirates, and even ghosts. In case their encounters weren’t enough, the characters are thrown unexpectedly into various occupations over their lengthy journey such as becoming a professional athlete, a rail-road manager, sailor, and flying as pilots. Each of these sections in the story is divided, and is introduced with Hickam giving his personal account of when he heard the specific part of the story from his parents. This provides an interesting dynamic; Encountering Homer’s aged parents as the story was revealed to him, coinciding with their younger selves in the core plot.
My personal connection to the novel, was getting to be one of the first people to recieve book itself. Homer Hickam held the launch party for 'Carrying Albert' at the Rocket City Lit Fest here in Huntsville. In his press conference, he talked on and on about the backstory behind writing the book, all which is revealed to the reader as they progress through the story. There I got a signed copy, and spoke to Homer about his novels.
There is little more I can say about this book than recommend it to you. You’ll be supporting an author with a lot of soul to his penmanship. It’s a fun, heart-warming story that leaves the reader with only happy thoughts. You will smile, laugh, cry, and more importantly, feel stronger towards your family and those around you. Give this one a read and treat yourself to a destined classic.
-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; January 2016
Banner Credit: Indie Thinking