Crazy for the Storm
By Norman Ollestad. HarperCollins Canada, 272 pp, $29.99, hardcover
How to capture the spirit of a father and son’s relationship? Norman Ollestad, the son in this equation, does it grippingly and gorgeously in Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival. But even before Chapter 1 there’s a double-take-inducing photograph that’s surely worth a thousand words: a surfer rides an ocean wave with a baby strapped precariously to his shoulders. Alongside, Ollestad has written: “On my dad’s back, Topanga Beach, 1968”. It was his first birthday. Are we jealous yet?
Well, somewhere between exhilarated and sorrowful maybe, considering the picture’s flip side—a map, on the next page, of a plane-crash site. In February 1979, the Cessna that Ollestad, his father, and his father’s girlfriend were travelling in struck a California mountain in a blizzard. Ultimately, only the author survived. Ollestad tells what unfolded on that peak in the kind of heart-thumping detail that has shit-scared readers clawing across an ice funnel by their fingernails alongside his 11-year-old self.
Equally spellbinding is the story behind the story. Norm Sr., a lawyer and former FBI agent, was an adrenaline-crazed risk addict. When Norm Jr. wasn’t living with his mother in the mellow Malibu beach culture, he and his dad were surfing bone-crushing waves, skiing sheer ice faces, and dodging gun-psycho federales on a Mexican road trip. Of surfing inside a monster wave, he writes: “I saw my dad down the line.”¦”˜Holy cow, Boy Wonder! What a fantastic tube ride!”¦You’ve been to a place that very few people in this world have ever gone.’”¦I looked around and suddenly this strange world made perfect sense.”
Three decades later, Ollestad tries to make sense of the death of the “Superman” who taught him to “go after the next one with all you’ve got,” and his own survival. What’s clear, as he inches down that mountain with beautifully tuned ski-racer instincts, is that those years of passionate tutelage saved his life. Was this a case of a man pursuing personal dreams through his child, as the author muses? Even if so, the picture that vividly emerges is of a wild-hearted father’s deep, crazy love for his son.