Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience

Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience

by Eileen Cronin


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“Extraordinarily courageous; [Cronin] chronicles her journey to fit in and thrive with bravery and wit.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393350746
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 02/16/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 775,815
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 2.90(d)

About the Author

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.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Chapter 1 Tracing the Blue Light 5

Chapter 2 Rosa's Game 16

Chapter 3 Open Spaces 32

Chapter 4 The Hanger 39

Chapter 5 Digging to China 52

Chapter 6 Under This Chair 58

Chapter 7 An Education 69

Chapter 8 A Communion 75

Chapter 9 Out of Nowhere 85

Chapter 10 Passages 99

Chapter 11 The Last Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Me 108

Chapter 12 How to Build an Empire 118

Chapter 13 Birth of Venus 132

Chapter 14 Changer of Hearts 156

Chapter 15 When a Pop Diva Comes in Handy 172

Chapter 16 Venus Rises (Having Gotten a Lift from Dr. T. J. Eckleburg) 185

Chapter 17 Ancestral Knowledge 200

Chapter 18 Swan Song 207

Chapter 19 Taking the Plunge 219

Chapter 20 The Gravedigger's Granddaughter 229

Chapter 21 One Door Slams, Another Opens 237

Chapter 22 Orphans and Ophelias 250

Chapter 23 Ophelia Gets Her Feet Wet 270

Chapter 24 Wings to Fly 293

Chapter 25 Dancing with Andy 306

Epilogue 333

Acknowledgments 335

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Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
Bookgobbler More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wassup? Miss you with all my heart. I really like you. Want to hang out some time? Xoxoxox
Anonymous More than 1 year ago