Friday, June 05, 2009

Crazy for the Storm by Norman Ollestad

Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival
by Norman Ollestad
Copyright 2009
Ecco - Nonfiction/Memoir
272 pages

My parents subscribed to Reader's Digest for my entire life. I can't remember a time there wasn't a Reader's Digest on the coffee table or a side table in the living room. And, it was the Reader's Digest's "Drama in Real Life" stories that probably led to my lifelong addiction to stories like Crazy for the Storm -- stories of survival, of people who found inner strength to beat the odds.

Norman Ollestad was 11 years old and had just won a skiing championship when he boarded a chartered Cessna plane with his father, his father's girlfriend, Sandra, and a pilot who reassured his father that the weather was not a problem.

Caught in a blizzard, the plane slammed into a mountainside, killing the pilot and Norman's father on impact. Sandra was severely injured but young Norman assessed the situation and decided, after some time sheltering under a wing, that their only chance of survival lay in a dangerous descent down the mountain to a meadow where he'd spotted a cabin. A treacherous chute threatened to send them flying into trees or off a cliff, but Norman had been taught never to give up. He and Sandra began their slow and careful descent, stabbing sticks into the slick ice to keep from losing control.

After 9 hours, Sandra was dead but Norman had reached the meadow, alive. This is his story. But, it's not just a story of survival. It's a story of a relationship between a father and son and how that father kept his son alive by teaching him not to quit. It's also a story of a dysfunctional, divided family living on a California beach in the Seventies and how Norman dealt with his grief after the accident.

What I loved about this book was the tension. Chapters alternate between narrative describing the plane flight, crash and survival story and the tale of a young boy whose charismatic, enthusiastic, pushy father taught him to surf and ski -- cheerfully convincing him to get out of bed early to catch the best waves or to go up a ski lift in a snow storm to ski in the best powder when nobody else was daring enough to even go out on the slopes.

What I disliked about this book was the language and sometimes graphic nature. Young Norman was exposed to a strange, overtly sexual lifestyle (when he eventually moved away from the beach, this caused him some difficulty). He lived on a nude beach where people partied, drank heavily and had noisy sex. He had a filthy mouth for a youngster. And, he had a mother with an abusive boyfriend. His parents were divorced and his father lived nearby. Norman's life was not easy and not pretty but his father was the light of his life.

Surfing and skiing figure heavily into the chapters with his father and a glossary of skiing and surfing lingo would have been helpful, but I got the gist.

The two storylines gradually merge and the theme of learned perseverance pushes its way to the foreground. While young Norman's father was sometimes harsh, he was a pretty amazing man -- athletic, musical, charming, effervescent. It was his optimism and determination that rubbed off on Norman and kept him going, focused on the meadow where he'd spotted a cabin from an 8,600-ft mountain.

****Possible spoiler warning and mild rant!!! Skip this paragraph if you want to be surprised by what Norman discovered many years later, when he returned to the crash site.****

One thing about this book that bugged me was that Norman refused to see his survival as influenced by divine intervention in any way. While freezing on the mountain, he decided he would believe in God if he made it to the bottom. And, then he got to the bottom and decided God had nothing to do with it. Later, his grandmother died a terrible death from cancer that simply reinforced his thought process that we're all on our own, down here -- even after he climbed the mountain, many years later, and realized that there was no way he could have possibly seen the cabin from the crash site. I can't imagine going through such an experience and all the little coincidences that kept him alive without seeing the hand of God as a factor, myself, but laying that aside . . . I enjoyed the book.

****End spoiler warning!!! It's safe now, I promise.****

3.75/5 - A gripping story but not family-friendly (lots of language and naked people doing things naked people do -- I just wouldn't hand it to the kids) and sometimes the sports lingo is a little confusing. However, the pages flew and I absolutely loved the way he tied his own father-son story to his own experience as the father of a little boy who learned to love the same thrills in the same way. I could really relate to the inspiring-father bit.

Many thanks to Ecco Books for the advanced reader!

You'll probably never catch me doing this, but it's sure fun to watch:


  1. Whenever I visited my grandparents house, the first thing I read was every single "Drama in Real Life" I could find in their stack of Readers Digest. Love that kind of stuff.

  2. SuziQ,

    See, I knew we were soulmates. :)

  3. I used to love Reader's Digest and their books too. Until I found out that they abridged them! I had no idea.

    Interesting sounding book. I'd see the hand of God myself but OTOH, I was raised that way.

  4. Carrie,

    I've only read a few of the books because I was really bummed about that "condensed" business.

    I thought of that -- you see what you're raised to see. Still, it's bemusing and sad, I think. So many miracles combined to save his life and he chooses to ignore that aspect of the survival.

  5. It does sound like an interesting book. I love survival stories as well. :) I'll have to add it to the long growing list. :)

  6. Krista,

    I'm getting you into all sorts of trouble, lately, aren't I? :)

  7. I used to read Reader's Digest too, my mom had them, but I was all into the funny anecdotes and quotes. Lately I've been really interested in survival stories, though. There's something so captivating about them. I think the filthy language and oversexed kid would discourage me from reading this one, though.

  8. Jeane,

    I loved the funny anecdotes, also. And, the vocabulary tests. Shoot, maybe I should subscribe. RD was always such a fun thing to read.

    The language and sexual stuff were kind of annoying, but I love survival so much that the reading went really quickly. I was never so upset that I felt like putting the book down for a break. Plus, the way he goes back and forth between the accident and scenes with his father, etc., you get time off from the language and such, every other chapter. I wouldn't discourage you from reading it. Shoot, I always wish people were right next door. If I could walk it over to you and let you sample a chapter or two, then you'd know if you could handle it!!! Of course, then I'd just loan you my copy. :)

  9. I've got this one in my stack, and skipped the spoiler alert section, but now I'm totally curious as to what he discovers. I'll have to move this one up higher in the stack.

  10. Oh, you could say that! :) I think I'll hold off the book for awhile. Just to be on the safe side. I've got so many books I am loving that I'll just stick to what I have. Though I do have a few books on hold. :) Oh and I plan to get Elaine Viets' latest Shopper series book when it comes out in November. :)

  11. Reader's Digest! They were always a presence in my grandparents' house and I loved reading them. This book sounds like an amazing story.

  12. Alyce,

    I really enjoyed that little thing that I'm not going to reveal to you. Wow, having a spoiler kind of limits the ability to comment, doesn't it? LOL


    Sigh. Elaine Viets reminds me of Barbara. I so miss Barbara.


    Interesting. I wonder if Reader's Digest is partly responsible for growing a lot of reading addicts.

  13. hugs I miss Barbara too.

  14. It would be nice to live next to another booklover. We'd always be loaning each other books, I'm sure!

  15. Krista,

    Yeah. Sigh. Hugs to you, too. I've got a rose-scented candle she sent me for one of our gift exchanges, here, and a book she sent me on the shelf behind my chair. Sigh.


    I know! We'd have such fun!

  16. I really, really liked this book. I agree it's not family friendly, but that had no impact on my rating. The lack of punctuation did though. Putting pictures in the book would have enhanced my reading experience, too. I wanted to see! Many pictures and video clips have surfaced since I read the book and I have enjoyed those.

  17. Joy,

    Same here. I really gobbled this book down, even with the language and sex. That didn't slow me down, it just surprised me, I guess. I did occasionally wonder who was talking. Lack of quote marks baffles me. Oh, yes, I wanted to see more pictures, too! I watched a video at B & N and it was terrific -- lots of photos of his dad and brief shots of the author being interviewed or shown in a wheelchair, after the crash. They needed a big photo section, definitely.

  18. What you said in the end about not wondering about God after his realization about the meadow being out of sight was something that struck me in a similar fashion. He chalked it up to animal instinct, simple as that. I would have a difficult time swallowing that.


Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!