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.