Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience [NOOK Book]

Overview

A gorgeously crafted memoir about resilience, family, and forging your own way, by a woman born without legs.


At the age of three, Eileen Cronin first realized that only she did not have legs. Her boisterous Catholic family accepted her situation as ?God?s will,? treating her no differently than her ten siblings, as she ?squiddled? through their 1960s Cincinnati home. But starting school, even wearing prosthetics, Cronin had to brave bullying and embarrassing questions. Thanks ...

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Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience

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Overview

A gorgeously crafted memoir about resilience, family, and forging your own way, by a woman born without legs.


At the age of three, Eileen Cronin first realized that only she did not have legs. Her boisterous Catholic family accepted her situation as “God’s will,” treating her no differently than her ten siblings, as she “squiddled” through their 1960s Cincinnati home. But starting school, even wearing prosthetics, Cronin had to brave bullying and embarrassing questions. Thanks to her older brother’s coaching, she handled a classmate’s playground taunts with a smack from her lunchbox. As a teen, thrilled when boys asked her out, she was confused about what sexuality meant for her. She felt most comfortable and happiest relaxing and skinny dipping with her girlfriends, imagining herself “an elusive mermaid.” The cause of her disability remained taboo, however, even as she looked toward the future and the possibility of her own family.

In later years, as her mother battled mental illness and denied having taken the drug thalidomide—known to cause birth defects—Cronin felt apart from her family. After the death of a close brother, she turned to alcohol. Eventually, however, she found the strength to set out on her own, volunteering at hospitals and earning a PhD in clinical psychology.

Reflecting with humor and grace on her youth, search for love, and quest for answers, Cronin spins a shimmering story of self-discovery and transformation.

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Editorial Reviews

Karen Springen - Booklist
“In her hard-to-put-down, brutally honest memoir, Cronin writes about growing up, as one of 11 children, without having legs. …[A] must-read for all memoir fans and everyone involved or interested in the lives of the disabled…. Readers will want to cheer at the happy ending to this must-read.”
Therese Nielson - Library Journal Reviews
“Cronin has managed to create a cogent account of coming to terms with her condition (and with the condition of her family). Her determination to create a life without secrecy and full of experience is evident.”
Susan K. Perry - Psychology Today
“Utterly believable and totally intriguing.”
Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe
“Mermaid is studded with searing moments. . . . But it also contains stories of . . . love and humor. . . . From a childhood enduring painful prosthetics and the misguided pieties of the nuns at school to her adult battles with alcohol and loss, Cronin chronicles her life with courage and grace”
Megan McDonough - Washington Post
“Compelling . . . beautiful prose. . . . [Cronin’s] grit, grace,
and optimism are a lesson to anyone confronted by a severe challenge. . . . Filled with tribulations, moving moments and,
ultimately, the triumph of her undaunted spirit.”
Phillip Lopate
“An irresistibly engaging story of physical limitation, family conflict and personal triumph—and how well we come to know this immensely likable, refreshingly candid, funny, shrewd and self-aware memoirist!”
Rita Mae Brown
“Written with an unvarnished pen, Mermaid spares no one, yet is fair, funny, and moving.”
Jane Brox
“Eileen Cronin’s memoir of growing up in a family rife with contention, chaos, secrets, and mystery—as well as love—not only chronicles her determination to live a fully normal life even with her disability, it brings to light the qualities necessary for anyone to live honestly in this world. Mermaid tells of a true odyssey, and is impressive for its frankness, humor, and beauty.”
John Hockenberry (Author and Journalist)
“Mermaid reminds us how the stories we tell and the ones we bury have the capacity to imprison or free us. Cronin's deep tenderness is born from the astounding hurts she has endured in her amazing life. From her capacity to forgive is born a laughter that is the best kind of wisdom. This deeply alive and sensual women may sometimes forget she is wearing a wooden leg and we can laugh at the absurd consequences, but the reader can never forget this glimpse of our world through the eyes of a Mermaid.”
Danielle Ofri
“Brave, wry, and spirited. Eileen Cronin delves fearlessly into the emotional thicket of family lore, tribal dynamics, body image, and coming-of-age.”
John Hockenberry
“Mermaid reminds us how the stories we tell and the ones we bury have the capacity to imprison or free us. Cronin's deep tenderness is born from the astounding hurts she has endured in her amazing life. From her capacity to forgive is born a laughter that is the best kind of wisdom. This deeply alive and sensual woman may sometimes forget she is wearing a wooden leg and we can laugh at the absurd consequences, but the reader can never forget this glimpse of our world through the eyes of a Mermaid.”
Booklist - Karen Springen
In her hard-to-put-down, brutally honest memoir, Cronin writes about growing up, as one of 11 children, without having legs, and trying to get her chain-smoking mom, who gets shock treatments and takes lithium for her 'nervous breakdowns,' to tell her whether she took thalidomide during her 1960 pregnancy. It's easy to root for Cronin. She attests to her many foolish choices, from riding a bike without a helmet to dumping seemingly sweet boyfriends and drinking too much until she chooses sobriety at age 27. She is incredibly resilient and plucky. She doesn't cry in front of bullies who cruelly toss her down the school steps, and she skinny dips with her friends after removing her prosthetic legs, feeling like a mermaid in the water. As a girl, she dreamed of replacing the March of Dimes poster child because he 'was a boy everyone loved.' As a child, she tells people she longs to be a ballerina. But when she sees her grandmother's 'face go slack' at this pronouncement, she adds, 'Or a missionary nun in Africa.' Readers will want to cheer at the happy ending to this must-read for all memoir fans and everyone involved or interested in the lives of the disabled.'
Kirkus Reviews
2013-12-08
A clinical psychologist's memoir about how she uncovered the truth behind the family secret that surrounded her disability. Cronin was just 3 years old when she realized that while her siblings had "two legs and a bunch of toes," her own body ended at the knees. When she asked why, her Catholic mother would say that it was because God had chosen her "to carry the cross." Yet none of the other members of her family ever treated her as though she were different. That all changed when she entered school. She wore prosthetic legs but discovered that she would have to fight to win other people's acceptance. Despite her physical challenges and the fact that her mother would be diagnosed with mental illness, Cronin still managed to have a relatively normal adolescence, which included parties, boyfriends and a healthy dose of sexual experimentation. It wasn't until college, though, that Cronin became painfully aware that she wasn't just, as one therapist suggested, a "mermaid" making her way in a two-legged world: She was disabled. Anger drove her to alcohol and to the destruction of meaningful personal relationships. At the same time, it also fueled her break with traditional Catholic expectations that she dedicate her life solely to motherhood and pushed her to demand answers about why she had been born legless. Investigation into her parents' pasts finally confirmed what she had long suspected: that it was her mother's use of thalidomide during pregnancy that had caused her deformities. Cronin's confrontation with family secrets eventually allowed her to enjoy a successful career and marriage. Perhaps the greatest achievement with this book, which brings to light one of the great medical tragedies of the 20th century, is that she is able to tell her story with a winning combination of candor, grace and humor.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393242737
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/13/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 53,713
  • File size: 671 KB

Meet the Author

Eileen Cronin
Eileen Cronin won the Washington Writing Prize in Short Fiction and had a notable essay in Best American Essays. A practicing psychologist, she is an assistant editor for Narrative and lives with her family in Los Angeles.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2014

    This beautifully written coming of age tale is a must read for t

    This beautifully written coming of age tale is a must read for those who grew up in a large family! Ms. Cronin captures the complex relationships of siblings, parents and extended family in a humorous and poignant way, made all the more complicated by her being born without legs.  Ms. Cronin recounts her family life being one of eleven children and the toll this took on her parents, particularly her mother who succumbed to several mental breakdowns.  Ms. Cronin’s journey begins with her realization at a young age that she is “different” when her family goes on a vacation without her.  Ms. Cronin is determined to find out what caused her birth defects and if in fact, they were caused by thalidomide. Catholicism, the Midwest and the 1960s-70s all play a significant role in this memoir. Some heavy subject matter at times but interspersed with colorful and amusing anecdotes that uplift the reader. Some of my favorite passages were the tales of her childhood with her siblings, particularly her beloved brother Frankie. Even at a young age, Ms. Cronin’s resilient feisty spirit shines through.  What I admired most about Ms. Cronin’s memoir was her ability to write without judgment.  This memoir is a realistic but loving portrait of a family. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I highly recommend it! Would make an awesome movie!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2014

    It is the first time I have ever book the same book twice. She

    It is the first time I have ever book the same book twice. She draws you into her story and you can't stop reading.



    I can't wait to read her next book

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 17, 2014

    To read Eileen Cronin's devastatingly human memoir is to be plun

    To read Eileen Cronin's devastatingly human memoir is to be plunged into a seemingly bottomless well of very deep emotions:  burning shock, fierce longing, everyday desire, well-founded rage, and a monumental yearning to be seen as one actually is.  Many of the scenes here are of nightmare-level intensity, ranging from the perspectives of a mobility-limited small child wiggling at her mentally ill mother's feet, desperate for love and attention, to the buddingly lovely adolescent making out in the back of a van, terrified of what her disability might mean for her future sex life, to the tried-by-fire adult constantly battling a familial judgment that any attempt to understand the source of her disability could only spring from an ill-tempered desire to stir up trouble.   Yet there's surprisingly little about pain in this jaw-dropping story of a smart, tough little girl's fighting to grow up sane -- and, at some junctures, to grow up at all -- in a family seemingly determined to ignore the facts and blame, if not actually abuse, the victim of intense denial.
     
    Written with engaging simplicity, this searing tale of misguided tough love and misinformed judgments relies upon vividly-drawn incidents for its effects, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions.  We're not told that these kids had little rational adult supervision, for instance -- we're merely given glimpses of it when the older kids habitually compete to see who can toss Mary Eileen highest in the air with their feet, immediately adjacent to a brick fireplace.  The text does not announce how insensitive Mary Eileen's teachers are; we simply see a nun bow to a stunned child, telling the girl that God has chosen her to carry the full weight of Christ's burdens.  Nor are we lectured about how bullying makes children's lives miserable:  we are dragged along as girls jealous of Mary Eileen's academic achievements throw her down several flights of stairs, one after the other, while not a single adult apparently notices.

    If the battling boys from the Lord of the Flies had stumbled into this world, its challenges would have made them turn pale.  Yet our young narrator grits her teeth, straps on her legs, and keeps soldiering on, determined that no one will see her cry.

    This lack of narrative judgment is refreshing in a personal memoir, which so often veer toward anecdotal-style generalizations and sweeping condemnations.  It's also refreshing to read a memoir about dealing with immense physical challenges that does not whitewash the issues or pretend that kith, kin, or even bystanders were invariably supportive of a condition not very well understood at the time.  Here, the family's resentment at what they interpret as God's cruel decision to place a less-than-physically perfect child in their midst is palpable from minute to minute.

    All of which is to say:  Mermaid is one heck of a good memoir about growing up with a mentally ill parent.  The denial in this household is not limited to the narrator's being born without legs from the knees down:  some of her siblings remain so determined to look away from their mother's frequent stints in mental care facilities that when Mary Eileen mentions such a stay at school, one of her sisters holds her down until she calls herself insane:  

    "Now, as my fingers tingled to a numb state from her knees jammed into my upper arms, I shouted in a convincingly crazy voice, 'I'm LOONEY!  OKAY?  I'll say anything.  Just leave me alone.'"

    Such is the level of familial myth-making and internalized embarrassment that for much of the book -- which is to say:  pretty much all of its heroine's adolescence -- everyone at home and at school calls her Tunes, short for Looney Tunes.  Rarely has a scapegoat been so well-labeled, or so lastingly:  even her boyfriends call her Tunes.  She encourages it; chillingly, the nickname seems to strike her as affectionate.

    That level of loyalty and blistering desire for normalcy will strike a chord with anyone who is now or ever has been an adolescent girl, I suspect.  One of the many delightful surprises of this memoir is how good a coming-of-age story it is:  learning to come to terms with one's own body and fears of how it might respond (or not) to sex are, after all, universal experiences.  I would love to see this book widely read by teenagers.

    Fair warning to teen readers -- and, indeed, to those under 50 -- though:  this story firmly enough grounded in Baby Boomer sensibilities and 1960s-1970s cultural references that you may occasionally want to look something up.  As a Gen Xer, I had never heard of Bridget Loves Bernie, for example, or the Goldie Hawn film Butterflies are Free.  

    That's an immensely minor quibble, however, in a piece of storytelling of great overall power.   Images from this book will haunt you like memories.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2014

    I loved this book. Eileen Cronin is a gifted storyteller. She te

    I loved this book. Eileen Cronin is a gifted storyteller. She tells her story with warmth and humor. The story flows seamlessly through her youth sharing her challenges and successes as a girl born without legs. It is entertaining and keeps you engaged, you won't want to put it down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2014

    MERMAID  is a beautifully written coming of age story. From the

    MERMAID  is a beautifully written coming of age story. From the moment I started I reading the book I couldn't put it down.
    Despite being born without legs,  Eileen Cronin is in many ways a typical American girl growing up in the Midwest in the 1960’s and
     1970’s. She goes out on dates, rebels against her parents and argues with her ten siblings.  Like anyone,  Eileen has her share of ups
     and downs but she never lets her disability define her. Instead, she writes about her life in a way that is insightful, poignant and
    surprisingly humorous. I loved this book. A must read! 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2014

    I couldn't put this book down. An easy read, that has beautiful

    I couldn't put this book down. An easy read, that has beautiful craft to it's writing. Ms. Cronin takes the reader
    through a journey of her life and it's challenges. No need to feel sorry for this tenacious women. She takes on 
    life with all that she has and the reader finds a beautiful and compelling person, standing on her own two legs.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2014

    Mermaid evokes so many powerful emotions. It's a truthful look a

    Mermaid evokes so many powerful emotions. It's a truthful look at growing up in a family of eleven. 
    We watch Eileen grow up in the story and see her tenacity as a little girl born without legs to a family of competitive, athletes and ballerinas. 
    She describes her own flaws as well as her family's with a layer of compassion. The story begins as we watch her first "squiddle" and 
    then literally and figuratively she grows into a beautiful mermaid by taking her pen to paper and ultimately finding her voice. 
    I feel blessed she chose to share her story and definitely recommend this book. I cannot wait to read more by this breakthrough writer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2014

    Hey jessica ;)

    Wassup? Miss you with all my heart. I really like you. Want to hang out some time? Xoxoxox

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2014

    Amber

    Swims in to look at announcments but notices there is none

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2014

    MERMAID QUESTS/ANNOUCEMENTS

    ~Moonlight

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2014

    Derek

    A human being with sun- blessed skin and sandy blonde hair wearing a lifeguards trunks swam here.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2014

    Jessica to derek

    Hey

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2014

    Mason

    Opens it. Canwe have sex

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2014

    Wait..

    How do mermaids do it?

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2014

    Mermaid

    U have to make me yours.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2014

    Andrew

    Dives in

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2014

    Crow

    *He looks her down sitting on her tail and takes off his shirt* ((question do you have anything over your bo<_>obs))

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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