Monday, May 25, 2009

Crazy for the Storm - Norman Ollestad

Subtitled: A Memoir of Survival

I'm also going to reprint the small paragraph on the cover. It grabbed me and I'm sure it will do the same to you.

"On February 19, 1979, I was in a plane crash with my father, his girlfriend Sandra and the pilot of our chartered Cessna. Sandra was 30 years old. My dad was 43. I was 11. Just after sunrise, we slammed into a rugged 8,600-foot mountain engulfed in a blizzard. by the end of our nine-hour ordeal I was the only survivor."

Hooked? This is a stunning, yet heartbreaking memoir. Knowing the outcome of Crazy for the Storm in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the book.

Norman Ollestad had an unusual childhood. He literally grew up on the beaches of Topanga Beach in California, part of a surfing community. He also excelled at competitive skiing and most other areas he attempted. Behind him, encouraging him, driving him was his father, also named Norman Ollestad. The senior Ollestad was a child actor, appearing in the original "Cheaper by the Dozen" movie. He was an FBI agent, under Herbert Hoover, but quit after a year and exposed the dirty secrets of that administration in a book called Inside the FBI. He was also a successful lawyer. Ollestad himself describes his father as 'larger than life'. But he was what most people would see as a risk taker, living in and for the moment. He pushes his son to do the same.

This new release from Harper Collins Canada is told in alternating chapters. It opens with the horrendous crash and the realization of their plight. It then abruptly switches to the author's childhood. At first I found this disconcerting as I was caught up in one story or the other. But I quickly realized that this dual story telling leads us the climax, where both stories collide on the top of a mountain.

The author had what would be seen by many as an idyllic childhood. But after his parents divorced, his mother's boyfriend moved in. This man was physically and mentally abusive to both Norman and his mother, but his mother chose Nick many times over her son. Luckily young Norman has a surrogate mother in a family friend - Eleanor.

Author Norman has a difficult relationship with his father at times. He laments that he wants to be a 'normal' kid sometimes, hanging out in a neighbourhood with friends. His father instead encourages him to excel and that step beyond in surfing and skiing. It is on the way to a ski competition that the plane crashes. Some of the childhood tales are incredible. On the way to Mexico to deliver a washing machine to his grandparents, they are chased and shot at by federales. They end up living in a remote village with locals for a bit before rescuing the vehicle and continuing.

To me, this memoir seemed to be a way of honouring and making peace with his father and the loss of him after many years. It is a personal journey that we are privileged enough to share.

As an adult and parent Ollestad physically revisits his childhood home, the crash site and the people involved. He realizes that without his father pushing him all those years, he never would have survived the crash. And he can see what his father wanted him to see.

"Off the point at Topanga Beach I stared into the eye of a distant wave. Somewhere in the oval opening I grasped what Dad had always tried to make me see. There is more to life than just surviving it. Inside each turbulence there is a calm - a sliver of light buried in the darkness."

There are colour photographs included with the book - images of his father and candid shots of the family.

This is a memoir of survival - not just a plane crash, but of his life. A totally arresting read.

Read an excerpt of Crazy for the Storm.


bermudaonion said...

So glad you enjoyed this so much!

B.Kienapple said...

I am a sucker for memoirs so I'll probably give this a shot. What a story!

Alaine said...

This book sounds like one I would really enjoy! Great review.

Michele said...

This one sounds like a winner....very gripping. I just finished a real life avalanche survival story that had sooo much potential, but ultimately flopped. Think I'll try this one instead. ;)

Bingo said...

This WAS really good...and your review is wonderful!

Cath said...

This sounds like an interesting, well-written read, but OMG I CAN NEVER READ IT. It's my nightmare.

Darlene said...

Thanks for the review of this one Luanne. It sounds like a very good read.

Donna said...

Sounds a little heartbreaking. Great review!

Mary Kontrary said...

Great review! I'm going to add this to my teetering TBR pile.

Ladytink_534 said...

Sounds like a real-life Hatchet. Yikes!

Patti V. said...

This sounds REALLY good. What a great review Luanne!

Men's Journal said...

if you want to read a longer excerpt go to

jim_peak said...

An astonishing story. I listened to the audiobook- which was read by the author himself.

This is extremely engaging storytelling, IMO. He speaks openly about personal & family challenges in real, conversational language.

The book alternates between the events on the day of the accident, and the other parts of the author's life. I found both threads to be very engaging.

The book made the characters almost tangible, IMO. I wished only that it were possible to meet & know all the people involved- including his father.

The depth & honesty with which the author characterizes each person made me feel like I already knew them- like they were friends.

This is an amazingly honest biography. Be prepared for a trip through the flaws & triumphs of real people.

If you're uncomfortable with sexuality, you may need to speed-read through a few pages. However, even if you DO need to do so, you'll find the rest of the ride so engrossing that those pages will slip into perspective- as they do in real life.

I'd never heard of any of the individuals in the story, before I began listening. Now, they seem real. Both he & his father lived very unique lives, and so I felt extremely privileged by the author's letting us inside of them.

I felt honored to have been able to hear about these lives in this depth. Very memorable- very unusual story.