Thursday, April 3, 2014

Eileen Cronin's "Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience"

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.

Cronin applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience, and reported the following:
When I set out to write my memoir seven years ago, I planned to stick to humorous or wistful tales of romance and adventure, defying all the expectations, whatever they be, about a woman born without fully formed legs. Mermaid was not the title I had in mind, but it would have fit the story I set out to tell since mermaids are mythical creatures, playful and sensual, who navigate two worlds.

Up to that point I'd mostly written fiction and, as I saw it, I would not be forced into the one genre open to people with disabilities: memoir. But even in fiction, we have to write what we know to be true. No matter how lovely or witty the prose, a story not founded on emotional truth doesn't come to life.

Then for an assignment in a workshop, I wrote a true story about losing an artificial leg in a crowded disco on spring break, after lying to my dance partner. (I'd told him I was a wounded tennis star.) I assumed I would punch out the piece and move on. Instead I found a voice that was unmistakably mine.

Challenging as truth may seem, it gets worse once we learn that we must write about that with which we are obsessed. So I had to go to the original source of my lie, and that led me straight to my mother, a woman I'd spent several decades asking for information about my birth defects. Her answer was always some spin on the "God's Will" story. Because I knew instinctually that this was a lie, we tussled over everything for years. It is only appropriate then that page 99 includes a scene from the summer before fifth grade, when Mom and I fought for weeks over my decision to walk to school, and only weeks before I would first learn about the possibility that my mother had been given thalidomide.

If someone told me eight years ago that I would write a memoir, one with the word resilience in the subtitle, and one that exposed my mother's lie, I would have said, "Hilarious. Now tell me the truth."
--Marshal Zeringue