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The Mercy of Thin Air: A Novel

The Mercy of Thin Air: A Novel

4.3 98
by Ronlyn Domingue

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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.


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A gothically tinged historical take on The Lovely Bones, this debut novel manages to carve out some of its own territory. In late 1920s New Orleans, Raziela "Razi" Nolan carries on a passionate college love affair with Andrew O'Connell (while planning to be a gynecologist). She desires immortality ("One lifetime isn't enough to make all the trouble of which I'm capable") and gets her wish when she slips poolside, dies and finds herself in a state "between life and whatever comes next" in which she may observe the world she's left behind and even meddle mildly. As she learns the rules of "the between" Razi finds it too painful to keep track of Andrew. But 70 years after her death in 1929, she is curious to know what happened to her beloved and is drawn to a young couple, Amy Richmond and Scott Duncan. Domingue captures the equally repressive and uninhibited culture of 1920s America, creates a convincing world of "the between," and gives nice shape to the loving but troubled relationship of Amy and Scott as Razi uncovers her connection to them. The novel lacks a fully distinctive voice, but is certainly several cuts above the genre mysteries and historicals it most resembles. 16-city author tour. (Sept. 13) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Thin air, as it turns out, is actually populated with the spirits of the departed who have chosen to stay "between" heaven and earth. In Domingue's amazing first novel, Raziela Nolan is readers' guide to this great gray yonder. A most charming spirit, indeed, she graciously takes us back to 1920s New Orleans and recounts her passionate romance with Andrew, revealing the subsequent lives of the people she tragically left behind and the mischief that goes on in the spirit world. Razi is so enchanting that readers will gladly follow her anywhere. Filled with vivid descriptions of scents, sounds, and marvelous human sensations that people take for granted and that spirits can only wistfully recall, this is a novel that gets under one's skin. Mere mortals can only hope that Domingue has more stories to tell. Highly recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/05.]-Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati & Hamilton Cty., OH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Debut novelist Domingue weaves a tapestry of lost spirits and misplaced loves. Raziela Nolan, outspoken birth control advocate and determined future medical student, fell to her death in the swimming pool of her lover Andrew O' Connell. Raziela's death took place in 1920s New Orleans, but her spirit has hung around in a kind of between-space for nearly 80 years, leaving her to learn the rules of the spirit realm while keeping watch among mortals. And what haunts this ghost? In the years after her death, Andrew, Raziela's one and only true love, disappeared, and she still misses him. Her ghost is drawn intermittently over the decades to Andrew's memory: She can smell him in old furniture, in places that he frequented. When a young couple, Amy and Scott, buys one of Andrew's old bookcases at an estate sale, Raziela decides to follow them. ("I liked her," Raziela says of Amy, "because she reminded me of myself. I liked him because her brazen little nature didn't scare him. They were darling together.") While Raziela, the story's compelling narrator, lingers in their apartment, Amy and Scott are haunted by ghosts even she can't see. While watching them, hoping to find clues about Andrew, she also begins to take note of their deteriorating marriage. Amy, it seems, harbors long-buried feelings for a lost ghost of her own. Sweet, entertaining love stories that could have used a better ending.

Product Details

Atria Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 1.10(h) x 9.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

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. Theurge 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 —


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 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

Meet the Author

Ronlyn Domingue was a finalist for the 2005 Borders Original Voices Award. Her work has appeared in New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, New Delta Review, and The Independent (UK). She lives in Louisiana with her partner, Todd, and their cats. Visit her website at www.ronlyndomingue.com.

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The Mercy of Thin Air 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 97 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The plot sucked me in within a few pages, and I couldn't put it down. Being from New Orleans, I was immediately drawn to the descriptions of the city in the 1920s, which I adored. This book was a random grab from the sale section, and now it's one of my 5 favorite books ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like anonymous, this is my most favorite book ever. I have lent it out so many times and now I'm going to seal it into my nook forever. It's creativity really gets your mind wondering.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book because of a Barnes & Noble booklet, it recommended the new author. Was I glad I bought it! It was back in 2005and I had just lost my grandfather, I was inconsolable. But after reading this book although it's a love/ ghost story, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. It is my favorite book. I just wish the author would continue writing. I keep looking up her name and only this book comes up! This book is one of the best books I've ever read! Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great charactors, especially the main charactor, great story line, wonderful romance, just a great read all the way around.
PierreLeChat More than 1 year ago
I suspect that like me you will cringe at the superfluous browbeating and social commentary, but you will also laugh when Razi laughs, and cry in agony when she hurts.
Erica Larson More than 1 year ago
the mercy of thin air is now, i believe, my all time favorite book. it challenges the mind and makes you think. it draws you in so deep that you wish you could simply curl up forever to read and hope the story never ends. it's a love so deep that you inly hope for a quarter of the man andrew is. i recomend this book to everyone, you will not regret te decision to read it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really do not know why this book has nothing but rave reviews... it is boring, long winded, and completely rediculous. I initially really liked the idea, but it was not put together well at all. We chose this book because of the rave reviews for our book club and although everyone finished, no one liked it at all (7 people). So morale of the story... don't always believe the reviews. I never cried (well maybe tears of joy when I finished). Skip this book unless you enjoy being tortured by words.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My book club chose this book because we all thought the synopsis sounded good. Out of 6 of us, only 2 finished it. I was one of the 2. I felt the story jumped around too much, too suddenly. I had to stop & think, 'Wait a minute, am I in the 20's or the 90's'. The consensus of our group was that the book took too much work. I felt it needed additional editing. I'm sorry to say this because I did like the storyline and the characters.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am more broken-hearted about the time I lost reading this novel than I am for any of the utterly forgettable characters in it. Following the gradual assault of these vague personalities you are expected to keep straight chapter after poorly-structured chapter, beware the plot that leads to no definitive end (despite the promises of a surprise ending - yawn - on the inside flap), love scenes you'll have to put toothpicks under your eyelids during in order to remain conscious (unless you are into palms and sternums and synchronized breathing), and pompous diction unleashed for the sake of forcing us to get out our dictionaries. She was onto something with the idea of being 'between.' She should have spent more time there developing Razi's afterlife experiences than in revisiting the mundane details of the young couple's house-keeping for what seemed like more centuries than Noble's been pacing about town. Amy and 'I honestly can't remember his name' and their circle of college friends (dead and alive) are just insufferable. The dialogue between characters is contrived. The language of the novel is excessively poetic. Facts and happenings should be disclosed clearly so you have some semblance of an idea as to whether an event has just occurred or been imagined. I also suspect a Thesauraus or two was sacrificed in order to rescue the final draft. Editors must have been overwhelmed because there are typos throughout the hard-cover version. I don't hold $20.00 that dear, but again I do value the time I lost reading this when I could have been reading something else. Let me spare you the same near-death experience. If you like historical fiction, try Phillipa Gregory. Her research is excellent and her characters are so alive you have no trouble remembering who's who, who's related to whom, etc.
Overthinking_It More than 1 year ago
In the simplest of terms, The Mercy of Thin Air is a modern ghost/love story. The main character, Raziella, is truly that-a character. She is whip smart, free-spirited and fun-loving and, her untimely death leaves a gaping hole in several lives. Razi's determined spirit endures for decades as she continues to search for her one true love, Andrew. As the story progresses, the reader is left wondering what became of Andrew's life. Though final revelations are not overly surprising, Ms Domingue weaves the story of overlapping lives and different eras to deliver a satisfying, thought-provoking read.
LovelyLitLady More than 1 year ago
The relationship between Andrew and Razi was portrayed in such a realistic manner that you find yourself pulled in immediately. Their romance is the type that everyone dreams of. However, the story skips around a lot. The list of minor characters grows and their names are difficult to keep track of because of sheer number. The plot gets murky at points and you have to read back over portions to comprehend. Fascinating plot line but so much more could have been done with it.
MCHR More than 1 year ago
I liked the story very much, unpredictable and written nicely, made me want to sit with a cup of tea and read it non-stop to find out if it had a happy ending....
PixieBlu47 More than 1 year ago
I have too agree with the others who claim this as as a beautiful and well written story. This "love " story will haunt you for a long long time. It was one of those books you didn't want to put down yet you forced yourself simply for the fact that that you'd be finished with it. And then you'd be left wanting more. I just wish Ronlyn Domingue would write another book . But 'am grateful for this breath of freah air.........
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book had tears rolling down my cheeks every other page.
The writer makes the story so touching and heartfelt, you can't put it down.
The mercy of thin air will stay with you for a long time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I remember novels that start with a great first sentence. The Mercy of Thin Air starts with one and then delivers an ethereal love story that haunts and reminds us of how the past is really always with us. No, we do not get over the loss of someone we have loved. We live with it. And it can enrich our lives.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm about to cry right now just thinking over the whole book.. I couldn't go five pages without shivers tingeling my back or tears running down my face. I love classics, like jane austin and the bronte sisters, but by far i enjoyed this one much more then those books. I read the whole book at once while listening to love songs on my ipod.. i wil defenetly be reading this one again, it's my favorite.
Guest More than 1 year ago
and the first thing I thought to do was come on here and write a review on how much I loved the whole story outline from in and out. It's a beautiful story that takes you through the emotions of the characters and makes you feel what they feel. Simply amazing, I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially women ]]
Guest More than 1 year ago
'The Mercy of Thin Air' is my favorite book of all time! The characters are complex, yet relatable and the story is amazing- I didn't want to put it down. In the time since I read it I have been trying to find something similar but nothing compares. I highly recommend this!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love a book that is not easy to 'figure out.' This had a surprising ending. It was outstanding. I highly recommend it to anyone but especially anyone that has known real, true, mesmerizing love.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Domingue's writing was inspirational, deep, almost as if it were really a young woman of the 1920s narrating her life, before she enters between and after. I took so long to read her beautiful novel because every word of every page of every scene was meaningful in a way that you couldn't just skim past it to understand the true feelings Domingue felt as she wrote. I found myself constantly looking up words in the dictionary to fully understand what Raziela was feeling as well. This book was one of the best inspirational books I've ever read. But I do recommend, if you are a young reader, like me, that you have the maturity for what your eyes may read. Its not a warning, a mere piece of advice. I have yet to come across a piece of writing so beautifully written in ways and thoughts many minds have already pictured.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love that the author made the main character a very strong and opinionated woman! I appreciate how the story weaved through the present and the past in a way that was easy to follow. I would recommend this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was hard to put down this book- an intriguing subject with an excellent story. I definately recommend this title.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An incredily creative storyline that the author tells very well. It is incredible how Razi and the people she visits during her chosen time 'in between' worlds have in common. It is a neat story with a slight romantic current through it. There have been times where I had tears in my eyes while reading it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Initially I had a hard time getting into this book. It was hard keeping track between the past and present. About 1/4 through the book it started to capture my interest and 1/2 way through I found myself captivated and didn't want to put it down. I found the end to be very touching and brought tears to my eyes. A beautiful love story and for anyone who has ever lost someone they truly loved will know that in life you move on, but you never ever forget.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I confess that sometimes I found myself rereading a paragraph because the novel switched into another character's voice, but I also confess that there were moments in the novel that I was excitedly waiting on the words to hit my brain. The subject matter of the novel is unique. It has a ghost, but it sure isn't a horror novel. I enjoyed it and recommend the book if you are okay with lots of movement of people and settings.