three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
user_rating: 
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A Memoir of Survival

A-Crazy for the StormA native of Southern California, Norman Ollestad studied creative writing and filmmaking at UCLA. Crazy for the Storm is his first book.

The Topic: On February 17, 1979, a Cessna carrying 11-year-old Norman Ollestad, his father, and his father's girlfriend crashed into Southern California's Mount Baldy. Only the boy survived, climbing off the mountain and spending much of the next 30 years contemplating his father's profound-and not always positive-influence on his life. By teaching him tough lessons on the ski slopes and in dangerous surf, the elder Ollestad, an iconoclast who had been a child actor before becoming a loose cannon FBI agent, had ingrained into his son self-sufficiency, mental toughness, and courage. But at what cost? In the aftermath of the accident that took his father's life, Ollestad writes, "I knew that what he had put me through saved my life."
Ecco. 272 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780061766725

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[The author's] vividly physical writing feels naked. Ollestad's insights into growing up in a broken home and adolescence in southern California are as engrossing as the story of his trip down the mountain, a trip in which he tried to save his dad's girlfriend, Sandra." Carlo Wolff

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Throughout, Ollestad's prose is crisp and exacting, a controlled approach to his tumultuous past. ... [The author has] written a beautiful story about a thrill-loving father-'the man with the sunshine in his eyes'-who taught his boy not just how to live, but how to thrive." Maggie Galehouse

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"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

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Memoirs are the new fiction, allowing us a peek into another's life at a safe distance. ... It's almost impossible to put this book down, although the details of his descent and the skiing and surfing scenes are described so technically that they sometimes lose the uninitiated." Sarah Willis

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Rather than take chances, Mr. Ollestad falls back on the conventional format of cross-cutting, so that chapters about his pre-catastrophe childhood alternate with short, crisp, impressionistic glimpses of the plane crash and its aftermath. This is an easy, caffeinated way of drumming up excitement, but the familiarity of the format stifles the story." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

Crazy for the Storm works on one level in the genre of "how-not-to." Passages recounting young Norman Ollestad's relationship with his father will make today's doting, attentive parents cringe. But those anecdotes neatly alternate with the author's death-defying descent that, by most accounts, he shouldn't have survived. Ollestad's memory of the tragedy is engaging and disquieting, even if the book's organization suffers from "the familiarity of the [memoir] format" (New York Times) and some questionable memories. Such lapses seem forgivable, given what Ollestad accomplishes here. In the end, he has much to say about fathers and sons, and his honesty-though he reaches a bit of closure, he doesn't overreach for any sort of happy ending-rings true.