rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
rachelmanija ([personal profile] rachelmanija) wrote2011-11-29 10:54

Crazy for the Storm, by Norman Ollested

Yet another memoir in which a short but compelling story of survival is padded out with flashback chapters about the memoirist's life before his plane crashed/he got kidnapped by terrorists/etc, to make sure the story is book-length.

In this case, the story everyone wants to read is about how 11-year-old Ollested, one of two survivors of a plane crash in the snowy California mountains that killed the pilot and his father, hiked down a mountain while trying to help the other survivor, his father's girlfriend. She's badly injured, and since the jacket copy gives it away, I will confirm that she doesn't make it. The flashbacks, which take up way more of the story, detail how Ollested lived with his mother and her abusive boyfriend, while his father periodically swooped in to demand that Ollested ski and surf with him. The young Ollested idolized his father, but was afraid of skiing and surfing - unsurprisingly, given that his father regularly demanded that he do what sounded like pretty dangerous stunts at a very young age.

You will be unsurprised to hear that I was interested in the survival story (about one-fourth of the total length, if that) and not so much in the endless series of surfing and skiing trips, described in impenetrable lingo and excruciating detail.

Incidentally, while individual moments can indeed be recalled with brilliant clarity twenty years later, especially if they were traumatic or otherwise memorable I don't believe that every single incident worth recounting includes vivid recollections of everyone's facial muscles. Having written a memoir myself, I frequently boggled at how Ollested would recount some trivial childhood incident jazzed up with detailed descriptions of the exact clothes everyone was wearing and the gestures they made as they uttered each word. No way. I also question the ethics of his depiction of Sondra, the girlfriend who dies on the mountain. She comes across as a horrific, shallow bitch. I'm sure that's indeed how Ollested remembered her, but given that she was a real person who died under pretty awful circumstances, to which he was the only witness, and there must be many people still living who loved her, a better balance of honesty with compassion might have been to give his recollections, but also talk to some people who knew her and so give a more rounded portrait.

Ollested ends up deciding that his father's maniacal effort to force him to learn great skiing techniques was probably what enabled him to survive. Twenty years later, he recounts how he nevertheless decided not to push his son as hard as his still-idolized father pushed him... and so he doesn't teach his son to ski until he's four.

I listened to this on audio while driving to Mariposa. The author's decision to read the entire book with extremely portentous intensity - appropriate for a desperate struggle for survival, not so much for dialogue like "Let's catch some killer swell, and maybe we can get back into that radical tube," - lent parts of the book a humor which it otherwise completely lacked.

Too much Daddy worship and totally tubular surfing jargon, not enough insight and wilderness survival.

Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival (P.S.)
green_knight: (Default)

[personal profile] green_knight 2011-11-29 19:33 (UTC)(link)
I just read an entry on somebody else's journal in which a person with a trauma history talks about having the depth of recall that you're doubting above; so I'm more open to the idea that he might remember things that well.

You're right about the girlfriend, though - saying 'this was me, a stressed and traumatised 11yo, these are the recollections of people who knew her from an adult perspective.

Having, albeit briefly, lived in a town where you could reach slopes with public transport, a skiing four-year-old doesn't seem excessive to me. It's not 'teaching him to ski' it's 'asking him to be a man and hurtle down steep slopes' that's the problem.
lovepeaceohana: A tilted artist's rendition of a clear blue ocean with sky and clouds above; text reads "now bring me that horizon..." (Default)

[personal profile] lovepeaceohana 2011-11-29 20:48 (UTC)(link)
I kind of want to go "Four-year-olds can ski?!" but then I have a cousin who was wakeboarding at about that age, so. Pity there's not more wilderness survival stuff.

young skiers

[identity profile] onebadbint.livejournal.com 2011-11-30 07:13 (UTC)(link)
Once I was flipping through a magazine at a playdate in Sweden, and read through a profile of a young skiing champion, which happened to mention that her two-year old already skiied as well. Boggled my mind. So I asked my Swedish friend sitting nearby if this was normal, and she said, oh no, two years old is very young to start skiing. Whew, goes me. She continues, normally they don't start til they're three.

The public parks quite often had little child-height rope gadgets set up too, powered electronically (?) to move up little hill slopes, so preschoolers could hang on and be pulled up to the top and then go back down on their little skis.

[identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com 2011-11-29 19:27 (UTC)(link)
Having written a memoir myself, I frequently boggled at how Ollested would recount some trivial childhood incident jazzed up with detailed descriptions of the exact clothes everyone was wearing and the gestures they made as they uttered each word.

There are, apparently, a very few people who have that kind of memory. But a)Ollested is probably not one of them and b)even if he is, this sounds like a case where less detail would be much better (both for versimilitude and for the story, since who cares what everyone was wearing?).

Someone should do an anthology consisting of the actually interesting parts of all these survival memoirs.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2011-11-29 19:45 (UTC)(link)
I would read that anthology! (Actually, I think similar things exist. I should read those instead.)

There was indeed an overabundance of completely pointless detail. I would also expect that if Ollested really does have a perfect memory, he would mention that fact. If he had said so, I would have believed it.

[identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com 2011-11-29 19:51 (UTC)(link)
If nothing else there are always the survival stories published in Reader's Digest. Which are all written in the same unaspirational style, but at least aren't cluttered with lots of unrelated cruft.

[identity profile] marzipan-pig.livejournal.com 2011-11-29 21:04 (UTC)(link)
I think those kinds of stories traumatized me a little as a kid - they were always so CUT TO THE CHASE and vivid!

(Well, and one of them was about a woman whose headaches were REALLY AN UNDIAGNOSED BRAIN TUMOR, and I had pretty bad migraines, so, I got to think about that a lot).

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2011-11-29 21:06 (UTC)(link)
I was traumatized by one about a guy who got his face ripped off by a bear and couldn't get plastic surgery and just wandered around some village for the rest of his life known as The Man With No Face.

[identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com 2011-12-03 03:07 (UTC)(link)
Did his dad shoot a lot of video, I wonder? He may in fact know some of this stuff because Mr. Obsessive had to document it all.

[identity profile] sartorias.livejournal.com 2011-11-29 19:48 (UTC)(link)
I wonder if he used photos to jog his memory of the sports stuff. (Some editor has a ham hand with this stuff, if so.)

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2011-11-29 20:14 (UTC)(link)
Yeah, I think he must have. But there was just so much irrelevant detail. I did not need to know the exact texture of the snow every time he stepped into it... well, maybe if I was a skiier, I would have found that highly relevant!

[identity profile] thomasyan.livejournal.com 2011-11-29 21:27 (UTC)(link)
Maybe he is overly fond of the Viewer's Cut [*] of Smilla's Sense of Snow

[*] Stop watching once they get on the ship, and the movie and its plot metaphorically drown in stupidity.

[identity profile] icecreamempress.livejournal.com 2011-11-29 21:45 (UTC)(link)
You have either a typo or an autoincorrection of Mr. Ollested's first name in the post title.

I felt the same way about this book. I certainly sympathized with him for having survived both a plane wreck and an abusive childhood, but the book itself made me feel icky.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2011-11-30 07:51 (UTC)(link)
Oops! Fixed.