Lynne Perednia's Reviews > Crazy for the Storm

Crazy for the Storm by Norman Ollestad
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Mar 02, 10

Norman Ollestad was raised by his charismatic surfer-lawyer-former child star dad to go for it all, whether skiing, surfing or just living. Ollestad credits that upbringing with saving his life when, as the sole survivor of a small plane crash, he climbed off a mountain engulfed in a blizzard. He was 11 years old.

The February 1979 crash claimed the lives of his father, also named Norman, his father's girlfriend and the pilot. Norman's father chartered the plane ride to get his son back for a football team celebration after the boy had just competed successfully in a skiing competition. When the weather took a turn for the worse, the plane slammed into a mountain. Facing an enormous obstacle while trying to cope with the reality that his larger than life father was not going to make it out of this one makes for a harrowing tale of survival.

Interwoven with the tale of his climb down the mountain are stories of Norman's childhood on a California beach. Seems idyllic, but there was enough drama and trauma. After his parents split, young Norman's mother takes up with a man who slaps them both around. Nick is one of those men who demand perfection. But an athletically gifted boy whose father already doesn't settle for second best is not about to take advice from a boyfriend, especially one who drinks. When his mother ends up with a black eye after one encounter, Norman is sent with his father to Mexico.

It's a trip he didn't want to take. His father is hauling heavy appliances to his own parents who are living down the Mexican coast. He was going to take his girlfriend, but decided to take Norman instead when the shiner appeared. The two survive one of those epic trips that includes greedy "soldiers" demanding payment, the truck stuck in the mud after heavy rains and a little bit of paradise in a coastal village filled with innocents.

Norman's father demands the same full-out physical effort from his son in Mexico that he does for skiing and surfing. Ollestad was the kind of man who can hardly wait to go skiing when the car is buried in a foot of new powder, regardless of what anyone else thinks is prudent. The descriptions of the extreme thrill-seeking adventures that the elder Ollestad constantly sought build a portrait of him that leads to the question of whether he wasn't just as abusive of young Norman in his way as Nick the boyfriend was. Both, after all, were trying to toughen the boy up. Once, when the son questions the father about whether a run is too deep with snow, his father tells him that it's never too deep.

The ambivalence in asking this question is set aside when it comes to crediting the father with making the son tough enough and canny enough to figure out a way down the mountain on his own. But it returns at the end when young Norman takes his own young son skiing decades later. How far does a loving father push a son? Ollestad gives his answer by way of describing how he treats his own son. After all, when your father makes you ski down a sheer ice face three times after a ski team workout, just so you know how to handle it, it's not every son who would wholeheartedly hero worship his father afterward. But when the son also knows that it's because of those extra runs that he had what it took to live, there's certainly no condemnation of his father, either.

Or, to paraphrase the author, he sometimes hated his father's charisma because the man was so overwhelming. But he still wanted to be like him.

The way the various time periods are woven together is done skillfully to make CRAZY FOR THE STORM far more complex and satisfying than a chronological account would have been. The technical descriptions of Ollestad's climb down may lose those who don't know mountaineering or skiing, but stay with it. The overall tale is worth it.
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