Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, his Wife and her Alligator
A journey of a thousand miles. With an alligator on the back seat. And John Steinbeck as a passenger. This is a tale where everything is true, except the bits that are made up.
In 1930s America, the Great Depression made everyone’s horizons smaller, and Elsie Lavender found herself back where she began, in the coalfields of West Virginia. She had just one memento of her halcyon days a baby alligator named Albert.
Then one day, her husband’s stoical patience snapped and Elsie had to choose between Homer and Albert. She decided that there was only one thing to do: they would carry Albert home to Florida. And so began their odyssey a journey like no other, where Elsie, Homer and Albert encountered everything from movie stars and revolutionaries to Ernest Hemingway and hurricanes in their struggle to find love, redemption, and a place to call home.
“It is brilliant because the idea of taking a crocodile in a car anyway is absurd but that is exactly what they did. It is a very funny story which you cannot fail to laugh about.”
14 May 2016
A delightful, quirky, ‘almost true’ story woven around the adventures of Homer Hickam’s parents in the early years of their marriage. The unusual wedding gift of a baby alligator outgrows their home in the coalfields of West Virginia and Homer and Elsie decide Albert has to be returned to his native Orlando. The journey is long and eventful and joyous. A simple tale garnered from almost forgotten family memories. So perhaps it is not entirely true? No matter. I really enjoyed the book. Did I mention the rooster?
02 June 2023
St Just Thursday Evening Reading Group 4th May 2023.
Carrying Albert Home. Homer Hickam.
There were mixed feelings about ‘Carrying Albert Home’. Some people didn’t enjoy the book, feeling that it was too unlikely, that it stretched our incredulity too far, and that the adventures were “too much to swallow”. Others thought it was a light-hearted romp, a nice relaxing enjoyable read, and that it should not be taken too seriously. Some group members suggested that it would make an enchanting film, and that it was child-like and simplistic.
Part of the discussion centred on whether the adventures in the book (about the author’s parents’ journey across the USA to return their ‘pet’ alligator to his natural home in Florida) were true, or had some basis in the truth, or whether they were all imaginary – exciting tales told to entertain a child. One reader liked the author’s small prologue/intro to each section via his parents, which she thought made the tallness of the tales a possibility!
Also discussed was the suggestion that some of the events in the book might have been allegorical, and held deeper meanings. The author said that his mother had stayed with his father after the adventure ended. So the book could be seen as a love story. This led to us talking about the sadness of marrying someone indifferently. Perhaps a long journey is a good way to ‘test’ a relationship? (N.B. Homer came to love the alligator more as the story developed).
Readers were intrigued by the appearances of John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway in the book, and how they joined in the adventures. Both authors, of course, wrote about the lives of ordinary people, ‘the downtrodden’, and the book does indeed feature some very impoverished and excluded people, as well as shedding light on the situation of America in the 1930s. We all agreed that the story highlighted some profound differences between how people were treated back then, and what is acceptable now.
One reader commented on the book’s weaving in of true situations, such as the train caught in the hurricane on 2nd Sept 1935 (known as the Labour Day hurricane) which killed over 480 of which 260 were WW1 vets working on a Federal project (known as the Bonus Army). She also pointed out that Steinbeck really did journey across America to view what was happening, and that Hemingway did live with his wife on Key West.
The alligator was a slight worry – could it ever really be tame or trustworthy, no matter how long it has been domesticated? It was also noted that in stories, the animals usually bite the baddies…
Everyone liked the photos that the author included at the end, although none of the pictures actually explain any of the questions we had!