Grounded in cultural anthropology, folklore studies, and intellectual rigor, A Mermaid's Tale also draws on literature, poetry, and mythology for its insights. It is a book filled with depth and detail as it describes Adam's swim through the ocean of her own life in search of the unusual, the beautiful, and the perfectly extraordinary.
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Read an Excerpt
From the Introduction
Crimson-tailed mermaid in a celadon sea this is how I see her. Blood-red scales that glint in clear green water. Long dark hair that trails past scaled hips, unfurling in waves of dark brown and black, hair that swims alongside and against the mermaid as a second living thing.
Skin burnished to a shine by the gritty texture of the sea. The salt has swirled around her shoulders for so long that they gleam like cream-colored porcelain, illuminating her lissome form when seen from a distance, when spied from the boat’s helm, or, when things are going badly, from beneath it. In some oceans, her shoulders are the color of chocolate, warmed by tones of orchid purple and blushed gold; in other places, her skin glows like milky carnelian stones lit from within by flame.
One sweep of her tail carries her through those thick clumps of current where the frigid northern water has thrown its fist into blankets of southern warm. The mermaid arches her back, unrestrained by a stiff spine, and raising her arms above her head, she cuts through the tangled tide like a diver through air.
Her necklace jangles like giant wind chimes when she flips over. Above the reverberating bass tones of whale mothers and the calls of sea lions, the metallic clanking of crucifix and knife, metal soup cans against crooked nails, spits a cacophony of noise into the muffled sea. Strung around her long neck is a heavy collection of offerings and bribes, gifts and garbage, all got from a century’s worth of sailors. A chrome-spark necklace made of twisted bubble gum wrappers, steel bells, broken mirrors, rosary beads, butter knives, latches, one rusty compass, and a slew of fish hooks in different shapes and sizes all hung on hand-coiled rope.
Tied into her hair are her favorite things: a small hand mirror with gilded edges and mother-of-pearl inlay; a dozen or so fat pearls, big as gumballs; a smooth piece of ivory carved into the shape of a bear and another carved into the silhouette of a gull; a pair of lacquered chopsticks; and a bottle opener in the shape of a plump tuna with a laughing mouth and the words Fat Fish 1988” inscribed upon it. This item she picked up from an exceptionally attractive fellow paddling all alone in a kayak in foul weather. He never made it home....
The love I held for mermaids as a little girl was fierce. That love has persisted, but it has also changed. This book aims to elucidate the mermaid’s cultural history and her impressive resiliency over time and place, but it also strives to merge a little tail” of self-discovery into the larger narrative. It is built upon questions large and small, sturdy and delicate, for surely I am as obsessed with mermaids as any Grecian sailor ever was.
Sitting at my dark cherry-wood-stained desk, given to me by a Classics scholar and avid surfer, a friend who memorized and conjugated Greek and Latin verbs on its polished surface, where Homer’s Odyssey has long leaned grand and heavy against its edge, I began my quest for the mermaid. Blessed by studies of antiquity and the wine-dark sea, the desk also revealed board-wax lingering in the corners of drawers, and sand showed up whenever I moved books around. Working there was like being at the helm of some large wooden boat. Upon a sea of words and love, magic and sightings, I embarked on this search for the myths and meanings of the mermaid. Who are the world’s mermaids? Where are they now? Why do women delight in silky green shirts and pearly lip balm, abalone hair clips and sequin skirts? Why has the mermaid’s relevance and slippery resonance never left me? How does she continue to mature alongside me, reflecting the different stages of my life as I get older? And more to the point, why, after twenty-odd years, do I still slip into the bathtub after a rotten or perfect day, close my eyes, and call upon that crimson tail?