For two hundred fifty-seven pages Norman Ollestad gushed his story in a memoir that felt like one mighty breath of passion and memory. In straightforward sentences without punctuation or any posture of poetic phrasings, he told his story that took place when he was eleven in clear, simple prose with an occasional severe yet elegant description.
The book opens with a bare description of the morning leading up to the crash of a small chartered Cessna on a cloud-covered, snow-bound California mountain. He would emerge as the only survivor of four people in the crash that claimed his father. From the shock of his stranded situation, Ollestad then moves the reader back and forth between immediate danger and an explanation and review of what forces led to the crash.
The story could be described as only a tale of a boy’s relationship with his father who drove him to excel simultaneously in competitive skiing, surfing, and hockey. Ollestad explains a complicated relationship with sports that is an increasing force in his story. Quickly and directly he lays bare his on-the-cusp puberty in a broken family of parents and their lovers. Mixed with them is a caring family friend who may have been the single consistently steady hand in a rock tumbler family against a backdrop of the free, uninhibited atmosphere of the young surfer world of Topanga Beach in the late 1970’s. What each force offers the young Norman is chaotic and haphazard as he observes his parents and their lovers as far over their heads with life as he is.
“Wonder Boy,” is what his father calls Ollestad as he simultaneously teaches positive lessons while putting his son in a dangerous harm’s way. A spoiled brat is what his mother’s different kind of abusive boyfriend calls him as he, in his style, tries to direct the budding teenager into the realities of being an adult. Ollestad was surrounded by adults who believed all would be okay if he grew up with the right beliefs, while he looked searchingly into their faces and knew nothing would be okay.
Nothing was okay on that cold February morning when the chartered plane went down, but through his story of survival, poignant reminiscence, and straightforward storytelling, the reader comes to understand the emotional barriers and limitless physical training that gave insight to the man who would later write his story.