The Mercy of Thin Air: A Novel

Paperback | June 20, 2006

byRonlyn Domingue

not yet rated|write a review
New Orleans, 1920s. Raziela Nolan is in the throes of a magnificent love affair when she dies in a tragic accident. In an instant, she leaves behind her one true love and her dream of becoming a doctor -- but somehow, she still remains. Immediately after her death, Razi chooses to stay between -- a realm that exists after life and before whatever lies beyond it.

From this remarkable vantage point, Razi narrates the stories of her lost love, Andrew, and the relationship of Amy and Scott, a couple whose house she haunts almost seventy-five years later. The Mercy of Thin Air entwines these two fateful and redemptive love stories that echo across three generations. From ambitious, forward-thinking Razi, who illegally slips birth control guides into library books; to hip Web designer Amy, who begins to fall off the edge of grief; to Eugenia, caught between since the Civil War, the characters in this wondrous novel sing with life. Evoking the power of love, memory, and time, The Mercy of Thin Air culminates in a startling finish that will leave readers breathless.

Pricing and Purchase Info

$18.69 online
$24.99 list price (save 25%)
In stock online
Ships free on orders over $25

From the Publisher

New Orleans, 1920s. Raziela Nolan is in the throes of a magnificent love affair when she dies in a tragic accident. In an instant, she leaves behind her one true love and her dream of becoming a doctor -- but somehow, she still remains. Immediately after her death, Razi chooses to stay between -- a realm that exists after life and befo...

Format:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8.25 × 5.31 × 1 inPublished:June 20, 2006Publisher:Washington Square PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0743278828

ISBN - 13:9780743278829

Look for similar items by category:


Rated 5 out of 5 by from wonderful Razi was definitely a woman out of her time! I was wondering throughout the book just how the author would tie them all together-- she did not disappoint! Someone told me that if I liked "Lovely Bones", I would like this one-- well, I did! It was not as dark as Lovely Bones, which was a wonderful thing.I thoroughly loved this book!!
Date published: 2009-04-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from great Raziela Nolan dies at a very young age and is caught between. She can not 'follow' her loved ones, instead she watches Amy and Scott. Amy has bought a bookcase that once belonged to Raz's boyfriend. The story interweaves the stories of Amy and Scott with Raz's own story. Raz is in her senior year at Tulane in the 1920's when she dies. She has been brought up in a very forthright manner. Her mother was a suffragette. She is involved in supplying birth control to women(an illegal activity). Raz hopes to be admitted to medical school in the fall. This causes some discord with her boyfriend(Andrew) as he wishes to marry her not have a long distance relationship. Amy is having difficulties coping with the death of her fiancee. She must come to terms with her grief and her love for Scott. The concept for this book was different. The stories were well told and I loved the twist at the end. The story grabs you as you want to know what happens and what happened.
Date published: 2009-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good! Razi died at the height of her life in the 1920s. She had an admission to a good college (a rare thing for a woman in this time) and had found the man that she loved. After she passes, she stays in the human world and guides spirits. There are some basic rules to living with humans. They include not staying with those that you love and not touching anything. We slowly learn more about Razi's past, while we learn about the couple she's living with: Amy and Scott. The two story lines intermingle and there are parallels between them. It's apparent that there's something more that the author isn't revealing and as you slowly learn more about Amy and Razi, you learn where the connection is. This book has some similarities to The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold in that the narration is told from a dead character's point of view. It also grabs you the same way The Lovely Bones does, but is a bit confusing at the beginning while you try to determine who the narration is coming from. The weaving of the stories makes for a very interesting read. I will definitely be on the lookout for other books by Domingue.
Date published: 2009-01-01

Extra Content

Read from the Book

Chapter One Simon Beeker had been dead four months. I did not know this when I approached his house for a belated visit. Because I was no longer in the habit of skimming obituaries, I missed the announcement. The last time I had seen Simon, in early 1991, he was seventy-four. He sat in his crimson study, his elbows angled on the arms of a worn leather chair. I watched him turn the pages of a new biography -- the spine crepitated under his grip -- and noticed his eyes taking in each paragraph, quick and hungry. That quality had never changed about him. As a boy, he had been a collector of knowledge who sneaked into Andrew's room to read books a page at a time between odd jobs. There in the study was Andrew's bookcase. The piece was an outdated Eastlake-inspired design when Andrew's aunt willed it to him, but he loved it because the shelves held books two rows deep. Before he left to go to law school, Andrew gave his mother permission to sell or give away what didn't go with him. He left dozens of books, several fine suits, and the bookcase. When Emmaline, their housekeeper, asked for the historical texts, Andrew insisted that she take everything. Emmaline gave it all to Simon, her long-boned, far-sighted grandson. On the day of that visit, when Simon was seventy-four, I stayed only a few moments. I had not been near the bookcase in several decades. The smell I detected in the closed spaces made me anxious, lonesome. With barely a stir, I left. His wife asked him if he felt a draft as she stepped into the room to hand him a cup of coffee. He turned his dark face and sage eyes toward her and answered he had not. Now, twelve years later, he was dead. The urge to see him again had come far too late. I knew Simon was gone when I neared his little bungalow and saw the hand-lettered sign: Estate Sale. Cars parked on the banquettes on both sides of the street. Books, kitchen items, blankets, knickknacks, and furniture cluttered the tiny front yard. People made claim to Simon's possessions, holding them tightly in their arms. There was the bookcase, in perfect condition, the only antique on the lawn. A small man in pince-nez glasses approached it with arms wide. He dropped to his knees reverently and opened the two drawers to inspect them. Like a billow of smoke from a snuffed flame, a scent I had not smelled in many years escaped the cool, dark hollows. This time, I did not avoid it. The little man began to shiver. Andrew's essence drew outward, then stalled. The particles suspended in a dense concentration of cold, still air. I held the salty tinge within me for the length of a breath, before anything more could make an escape, before I could linger on the question, What happened to him? As the air warmed, I noticed a rich, mature scent, one that had more strength but less power. That was Simon, whose hands had rubbed a chestnut patina into the glass doors as long as I'd been gone. He would have wanted the bookcase protected. I stood guard with cold drafts, waiting. By late morning, a couple wandered through the remaining odds and ends at the sale. The young woman spotted the bookcase, shadowed by a redbud tree in new leaf. She opened the doors. As she reached inside to inspect the shelves, she breathed deeply. A comforting aroma, almost a blend of pipe smoke and cinnamon, surrounded her. "Scott. It's perfect for the room, don't you think? And it's not musty or mildewed inside. I like the scent," she said. He pulled a tape measure from his pocket. "Good fit. We haven't seen a nicer one anywhere. Great condition." "I see something in a crack." She stretched deep over the last shelf. As small as she was, she could have crawled inside. When she withdrew, there was a copy of Family Limitation in her hand, which she eagerly began to skim. She grabbed Scott's arm and made him read a passage about unsatisfied women and nervous conditions. "I must have this," she said. "It would complement my mementos from our Condom Sense Days in college. Remember?" Her eyes flickered. "Oh, I remember." He flipped through the fragile pages. "You're lucky those Bible thumpers didn't whip themselves into a bigger frenzy and beat the crap out of all of you." Scott read several paragraphs. "Hey, Amy -- women used to douche with Lysol?" "Lysol? Let me see that." I liked her because she reminded me of myself. I liked him because her brazen little nature didn't scare him. They were darling together. She slipped the pamphlet back into its place and began to inspect the exterior wood. "Interested?" One of Simon's granddaughters had his quiet look in her eyes. "Mamma," she shouted, "what are you asking for the bookcase?" A woman poked her head around a porch column. "Five hundred." Amy suppressed a grin and reached into her large, cluttered purse. Scott jumped to catch a small notebook as it fell. "I don't think we have enough cash. Would you take an out-of-town check?" she asked. "Not usually. But you two look honest enough." Simon's granddaughter put a money box on the ground and pushed the sleeves of her baggy Tulane sweatshirt to her elbows. "You're going to give it a good home, right? I don't want my grandfather rolling over in his grave." Amy looked at her. "You don't want to keep it?" "No one in the family likes Victorian. It's time for it to belong to someone else." Scott told the young woman that they would have to arrange a delivery to their home in Baton Rouge. She pulled a pen and paper from the money box. "Sarah Washington, that's my mom. You can make the check out to her. This is her cell phone number. Call her and set up a date. She'll make sure someone is here." In block print, Amy wrote several phone numbers next to their names -- Amy Richmond and Scott Duncan. "Here are ours, too, just in case." The young woman took the check, and they wished each other a good day. Scott wrapped his arm around Amy's shoulders. She briefly laid her auburn head against his chest. "What a bargain," she said. "With a free turn-of-the-century sex manual." "Birth control guide." "What do we need that for?" He patted her at the navel once before she pulled away. Copyright © 2005 by Ronlyn Domingue From Part One The day I die, I glance at Daddy's newspaper before I leave the house. I notice the date, July 10, 1929, and realize it's been almost a month since my graduation from Tulane. No matter what I've done to make these weeks drag wide and full as clouds, they've disappeared in a gust. I walk the tree-shaded blocks in my favorite green sleeveless dress. The heat makes me dewy. I hope my extra swimsuit is at his house because I terribly want a dip. If not, perhaps I should go bare. Andrew's parents are in the Swiss Alps, avoiding mosquitoes and tropical heat, and Emmaline will be away shopping until it's time to cook lunch. My pace quickens. Along St. Charles Avenue, I grin at a college boy who offers a ride in his coupe. His F. Scott hair weeps into his neck from the humidity. He looks familiar, someone who's cut in on me at a dance or two. "Thanks," I reply, "but I'm limbering up for a swim." "Mind if I join you?" he asks. "Not today, sport." As he drives away, I stop in my tracks. Andrew's surprise. The items are still on my dressing table. A sliver of grapefruit curls at the tip of my tongue. Go back home, brush my teeth -- forgot to do that, too -- sneak it out in a little bag. No one will notice, no one will know. No. Maybe. It can wait. I unlock the back gate with a key hidden behind the purple bougainvillea. The back door near the pool is unlocked. I find my swimsuit in one of the bottom drawers of Andrew's bookcase, where he keeps the things I've left behind. The water sips me into the deep where I twirl against its pull. Inside the house, the grandfather clock chimes ten times; then, after several languid laps, once more. It is ten thirty. He is late returning from his tennis match with Warren. I scissor myself to the pool's bottom and watch the ribbons of light knit me among them. When I surface, I crawl out to take a dive. With a shimmy, I wriggle the leg openings and bodice of my suit into place. I am tempted to shed the wool -- Imagine his face if he found me with more than my naked toes pointed at the sky. Wouldn't he -- The words fall with my body. A second, then two, of darkness. The light around me becomes gauzy and bright. Did I dive through my thoughts and into the water? What peace, these first moments under the surface when my swimmer lungs haven't started to burn and I have forgotten that time is moving above. An airy-fairy rush fills my limbs and lifts me like incense. I am dissipating, consumed by the weightlessness of a dream -- no, I am being pulled up, out, away -- Stop. My eyesight blurs through a veil of faint sparks. I am above the water. Andrew approaches the pool, stifling a quiet laugh. He's not going to let me scare him this time. He's seen this before. With each slow step, he removes the layers -- shoes, socks, tennis shirt, belt. Andrew unbuttons his white pants but keeps them on. He kneels on the pool's edge, pulls me up, and stretches me at his side. His smooth face goes straight to my neck, but this time I don't respond. He shakes me. He puts his ear to my mouth. He forces his right hand into my suit, under my left breast. He withdraws, holds his palm against my diaphragm. My head bobs as his fingers, frantic in a way they've never been, search the back of my head. He feels the lump that swelled after I clumsily slipped at the edge of the pool, slammed backward on the concrete, and fell into the water. My flesh is still warm. He draws me onto his lap. He wraps around my body as if he'll never let me go. I have never heard a man's heart break. Emmaline, smiling, walks through the back door, a grocery bag on her hip. She hears his keen -- suffocated, delirious. Her eyes shine with panic. She drops everything, rushes to us. Her shadow covers our heads. When Emmaline touches the thick black waves on his crown, Andrew lifts his face from my neck and looks up. Her hand moves to his cheek. Her palm fills with his tears. Pewter lines streak down her dark face. Over and over, he rocks me, the lullaby, sotto voce, no no no no no. He will not release me. Emmaline kneels in front of him and strokes my damp tendrils. Finally, when she touches his head again, he lays me flat, kisses my lips, and takes the silver locket from my neck. He walks into the house without looking back. She traces a cross on my forehead. I linger for a week of dawns and dusks near the pool. Each day, the haze and disorientation weakens. My body is gone, but whatever I am -- the sum of my final thoughts, my last breath -- has begun to take shape, vague as it is. I slip through the back door behind Simon, who has watered the plants his grandmother, Emmaline, has neglected for days. I wander into Andrew's room. He isn't there. In the reflection of the bookcase doors, I see a short man move into view. He has the grainy look of a silent film, and he wears a baggy shirt draped over tight pants. Around his neck is a faded scapular. "I am Noble. I have come to welcome you," he says to me. His English undulates with the rhythm of French. His giant, heavy-lidded eyes overwhelm his otherwise large nose and long, thin mouth. I know that his hair should be blond -- I can sense that -- but it has an inexplicable lack of color. "What is your name?" "Raziela Nolan. Call me Razi." I watch him glance at me, tip to toe, and I look down. I am nothing but a blur. "I'm missing. Where am I?" "You're new. It will come soon." Noble peers around Andrew's room. This man, I think, has seen castles. "Do you know what has happened?" Noble asks. "I drowned." "Do you have questions?" "Where are we?" "Between." "Between what?" "I do not know." "What are we?" "That, too, I do not know." "So we go about our business as if we weren't -- aren't -- dead?" "That will not be possible. You will soon come into hearing, sight, and smell beyond any experience you can imagine. Your form will change, and you will be able to move fluidly through this world. There will be tricks you can do, tricks that ones who are between can observe, some that the breathing can see. Be careful of your audience." I remain silent. I am within the sound of his voice, not near it. "There are rules, about which we all have an understanding," Noble says. "First, do not remain with your loved ones. You can go anywhere you please, anywhere at all, but leave them alone. Second, do not linger at your grave. One brief visit will suffice. Do that when you are able, perhaps in another seven days. And finally, do not touch. You have no need for it any longer." "Why not?" His small hand brushes the place where my cheek should have been. I know that he touches me, but all I feel is a strange raw vibration. No texture. Nothing familiar. The gesture is hollow. "I will come to see about you again soon. Bonne chance." Noble disappears into the wall. From the window, I see him drift over the surface of the pool and through the narrow bars of the wrought-iron fence. Copyright ©2005 by Ronlyn Domingue

Bookclub Guide

Topics for Discussion 1. The narrative structure of The Mercy of Thin Air alternates between the past and the present. How does this structure build suspense and pique a reader's curiosity about what will happen next? What insight do you get into the lives of Razi and the other characters because of the way the story is told? 2. How did Razi defy the conventions of society in the 1920s? If she had lived, do you think she would have fulfilled her dream of becoming a doctor, or set aside that ambition for marriage and motherhood? Given the time period, would it have been realistic for her to have done both? 3. Although she doesn't know it until after his death, Amy shares a pivotal experience with her grandfather. How did Amy reevaluate her life after she learned what happened to Poppa Fin? Does Amy come to better understand her grandfather after what she discovers about him? 4. Razi tells us, "Most of the ones who stayed between opted for the unknown -- what was beyond -- within weeks after their deaths." Why has Razi chosen to stay between decades after her death? What makes her decide it's finally time to go beyond? 5. Discuss Razi's friendship with Twolly. What is significant about the novel's ending, when Razi is at Twolly's bedside? 6. For years, Razi followed the life of a man she assumed to be her Andrew O'Connell. On some level, did she know he was the wrong person? She says, "I had never questioned whether I tracked the right person because -- in name, action, and deed -- the man had led the life I expected my Andrew to have, the life he had planned." Razi assumes that Andrew would carry along with the plans he had made before she died. Did she underestimate the impact her death would have on Andrew? 7. How have relationships between men and women changed in the last hundred years, as illustrated in this book? Is it startling to see how limiting women's roles really were less than a century ago? Why do you suppose the author chose to set the earlier part of the story in the 1920s instead of in another time period? 8. When Andrew asks Razi if she would consider becoming a nurse instead of a doctor, is he in a sense stifling the very qualities that attracted him to her in the first place? If they had married, how do you think their relationship would have changed? 9. Neither Amy nor Scott "attempted to find the humility, or courage, to make amends. The silence, more than their physical separation, grew in its power to keep them apart for good." Would Amy and Scott have reconciled if not for Razi's intervention? 10. Once Razi had "learned to maneuver through the world without a body," she felt it was her duty "to help others adjust to our translucent realm." What motivates her to assist others in making the transition? Is it a continuation of how she acted in her previous life? 11.How do the five senses factor into the story, particularly smell and touch? 12. At the estate sale at Simon Beeker's home, Razi is drawn to Andrew's bookcase, which leads her to follow Amy and Scott to their home. Was it really Amy to whom Razi felt connected? In what ways are Razi and Amy alike? 13. Emmaline, Simon, and Andrew had unique relationships with one another. Why did Andrew show such concern for Emmaline and Simon? What motivated Simon to keep in touch with Andrew? What issues of race and class were revealed through these characters? 14. What stood out the most for you in this story? What, if anything, did you find yourself remembering days after you finished reading the book? 15. What are your thoughts on whether there is a between realm, a place where a spirit lingers after the body has died? Have you had experiences with paranormal phenomena? 16. The Mercy of Thin Air is Ronlyn Domingue's first novel. What makes you interested in reading her future work? Does this book remind you of other novels you've read? In what ways?

Editorial Reviews

"Domingue's vision of the shifting, shadowy world of the dead is convincing and surprisingly affecting . . . and stays just the right side of romantic." -- Daily Mail (London)