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Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survivalby Norman Ollestad
Synopses & Reviews
Ollestad, we can do it all. . . .
Why do you make me do this?
Because it's beautiful when it all comes together.
I don't think it's ever beautiful.
We'll see, my father said. Vamanos.
From the age of three, Norman Ollestad was thrust into the world of surfing and competitive downhill skiing by the intense, charismatic father he both idolized and resented. While his friends were riding bikes, playing ball, and going to birthday parties, young Norman was whisked away in pursuit of wild and demanding adventures. Yet it were these exhilarating tests of skill that prepared Boy Wonder, as his father called him, to become a fearless champion — and ultimately saved his life.
Flying to a ski championship ceremony in February 1979, the chartered Cessna carrying Norman, his father, his father's girlfriend, and the pilot crashed into the San Gabriel Mountains and was suspended at 8,200 feet, engulfed in a blizzard. "Dad and I were a team, and he was Superman," Ollestad writes. But now Norman's father was dead, and the devastated eleven-year-old had to descend the treacherous, icy mountain alone.
Set amid the spontaneous, uninhibited surf culture of Malibu and Mexico in the late 1970s, this riveting memoir, written in crisp Hemingwayesque prose, recalls Ollestad's childhood and the magnetic man whose determination and love infuriated and inspired him — and also taught him to overcome the indomitable. As it illuminates the complicated bond between an extraordinary father and his son, Ollestad's powerful and unforgettable true story offers remarkable insight for us all.
"In a spare, brisk prose, Ollestad tells the tragic story of the pivotal event of his life, an airplane crash into the side of a mountain that cost three lives, including his father's, in 1979. Only 11 years old at the time, he alone survived, using the athletic skills he learned in competitive downhill skiing, amid the twisted wreckage, the bodies and the bone-chilling cold of the blizzard atop the 8,600-foot mountain. Although the narrative core of the memoir remains the horrifying plane crackup into the San Gabriel Mountains, its warm, complex soul is conveyed by the loving relationship between the former FBI agent father and his son, affectionately called the 'Boy Wonder,' during the golden childhood years spent in wild, freewheeling Malibu and Mexico in the late 1970s. Ollestad's unyielding concentration on the themes of courage, love and endurance seep into every character portrait, every scene, making this book an inspiring, fascinating read." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Were he alive and parenting today, Norman Ollestad Sr. would almost certainly be arrested — or worse, collared and forced to appear on Dr. Phil. He would be pilloried by the Alpha Mommy Brigade and lose any hope of ever visiting his beloved only son, Norman Jr. Consider this list of offenses, compiled by "Little Norm" in this breathtaking "memoir of survival": An avid surfer, the... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) elder Ollestad takes his stripling son out in waves that are literally breaking over his head. They go skiing out-of-bounds in deep powder, and the kid flounders; Dad comes to his aid only when Little Norm finds himself trapped head-down in a tree well, a potentially fatal situation. Driving home from their ski trips, Papa Ollestad would sometimes "rest one eye," as he put it, letting Little Norm steer while he dozed behind the wheel. At one point, he takes the kid on a 1,000-mile Mexican road trip that reads like an outtake from "Easy Rider." Contemplating that looming journey to Mexico, one that would certainly involve surfing, Junior felt nothing but dread: "He would be focused on the surf and I would be left to fend for myself," he moans. He vastly preferred birthday parties and chocolate cake to his dad's taxing adventures. "I yearned to live the life of my peers," he writes, "riding bikes together after school, playing ball in a cul-de-sac." But this is not a memoir of complaint, nor a saga of childhood oppression. The "survival" part comes later, after their chartered Cessna slammed into the side of 8,693-foot Ontario Peak in the middle of a raging winter storm. Ollestad, his father and his father's girlfriend had been flying to pick up the kid's championship ski trophy when the pilot became lost and hit the peak. His father and the pilot were killed instantly, and the author and his father's girlfriend were left to fight for their lives. There, in wilderness barely an hour from downtown Los Angeles, Ollestad realized that everything his father had taught him, every painful ordeal to which he had subjected the boy, had a purpose. Even by the standards of Southern California in the 1960s, Norman Ollestad's parents were a quirky pair. His father had been a child actor, appearing in the movie "Cheaper by the Dozen." Later he joined the FBI, but soon grew disillusioned with J. Edgar Hoover's petty diktats and wrote a book exposing them, which did not endear him to his former employers. He retreated to the hippie enclave of Topanga Beach, at the south end of Malibu, where he surfed and earned a desultory living as a lawyer. Ollestad sketches life at Topanga as nearly idyllic: Surfing just outside the front door, naked people on the beach, a cluster of simple houses on the sand (now long gone, bulldozed to make way for movie-star mansions). The book opens with a photo of his father taking Norman surfing, in a baby carrier. But the '60s were expiring, yielding to the bleak hangover of the '70s. His mother was an incurable romantic, and when she fell in love with a visiting Frenchman, his parents' marriage was over. Like so many of us who belonged to that first generation of children of divorce, Ollestad was forced to navigate by himself a complicated world that he hadn't made. It is his father who towers over the story, with his hunger for life and new experiences of all kinds, good and bad — pushing Norman, whom he dubs "Boy Wonder," into all sorts of situations that seem reckless now. He's about the furthest thing possible from today's "helicopter parents," hovering over their children and monitoring their every move, shielding them from the unpleasantness and conflict that make up so much of life. Norman Senior wanted his son to experience the brilliance and the danger of life, to learn that you can't know the bliss of a perfect powder run if you're not also a little bit scared. When their plane hit the mountain, Little Norm had just won the Southern California ski championship, thanks in part to the skills he'd acquired by following his father down various terrifying avalanche gullies. Now he was lost and freezing, struggling with the realization that his father was dead, trying to stay conscious and get himself and his father's girlfriend, Sandra, to safety. Not long afterward, the dazed Sandra plummeted to her death down the icy mountainside. The boy realized he had to make it down alone. As his initial panic yielded to his rational mind, he summoned the strength and self-reliance that he had unwittingly learned from his father over the years, in spite of his whining and complaining. "I knew then that what he had put me through saved my life," he writes. The tragedy is that it took his father's death for him to realize that. One wonders how well today's over-coddled kids might have fared in similar circumstances; at least they could have texted for help. This book is not perfect: Some of the descriptive passages are difficult to follow, and perhaps less precise than they could be, so that we get lost in the fog on the mountain, just as we sometimes flounder in the author's own inchoate emotions around this traumatic and defining moment of his life. But these are minor complaints. A portrait of a father's consuming love for his son, "Crazy for the Storm" will keep you up late into the night. Bill Gifford is the author of "Ledyard: In Search of the First American Explorer" and editor at large of Men's Journal. Reviewed by Bill Gifford, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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:A page-turning adventure tale...and a meditation on manhood." Los Angeles magazine
"... [A]n absolutely compelling book which I read in one long sitting. The fact that it's true made me shudder, but then Norman Ollestad is a fine writer and every detail is convincing." Jim Harrison
"Engrossing...Ollestad hits several notes that should make his memoir irresistible to those looking for page-turning but thought-provoking summer reading along the lines of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Deep and resonant." Kirkus Reviews
A heart-stopping adventure that ends in tragedy and in triumphs, [Crazy for the Storm is] a love story that fearlessly explores the bond between a father and son and what it means to lead a life without limits. Susan Cheever
“Breathtaking....Crazy for the Storm will keep you up late into the night.”
Norman Olsteads New York Times bestselling memoir Crazy for the Storm is the story of the harrowing plane crash the author miraculously survived at age eleven, framed by the moving tale of his complicated relationship with his charismatic, adrenaline-addicted father. Destined to stand with other classic true stories of man against nature—Into Thin Air and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer; Sebastian Jungers The Perfect Storm—it is a literary triumph that novelist Russell Banks (Affliction) calls, “A heart-stopping story beautifully told….Norman Olstead has written a book that may well be read for generations.”
About the Author
Norman Ollestad studied creative writing at UCLA and attended UCLA Film School. He grew up on Topanga Beach in Malibu and now lives in Venice, California. He is the father of an eight-year-old son.
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