The Mercy of Thin Air
by Ronlyn Domingue

Atria Books, September 2005. ISBN 0743278801.
Reviewed by Carolyn Blankenship
Posted on 03/09/2006

Fiction: Paranormal/Science Fiction/Fantasy

The Mercy of Thin Air draws one in like a warm fire on a winter night. A love story, a mystery, and a tale of the supernatural, Ronlyn Dominigue's unique first novel follows the wanderings of a flapper from New Orleans after her death in 1929 at the age of twenty-two. Raziela Nolan has elected to stay "between," her life on earth rudely interrupted by a tragic accidental death, her spirit unwilling to move on. Vivid descriptions of her days in 1920s New Orleans are woven seamlessly into her existence in between—a realm that exists after physical life and before the mystery that follows it.

Razi tells us, "Most of the ones who stayed between opted for the unknown—what was beyond—within weeks after their deaths. For them, the experience was too disconcerting, in conflict with all they had been taught or imagined about what happens after the body stopped.

"Since my death, I have spent most of my time learning to tolerate the incredible range of sounds I now hear and working to create a solid form. I fall in step beside Eugenia, the Confederate lady who is always found in the same place, circling the grounds of her old home with manic regularity.

"'Whatever were you thinking?' she asks.

"'How much I miss the feel of him.' This is only a fraction of the truth.

'Oh, goodness. No one told you? Touch will never come back.' I am horrified. I want to cry."

Where is Andrew, the love of her life? In between, all senses are heightened except the sense of touch, which is denied. But there is nothing Razi longs for more than the touch of her lover. Razi's ghost moves from place to place, following a desk that belonged to Andrew from one owner to another. It is the only way she can feel close to him. Seventy years after Razi's death, the desk is bought by Amy and Scott, a young couple whose story becomes intertwined with hers. Razi says, "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."

Amy is a hip young Web designer whose marriage is drowning in her unacknowledged grief for her first love, a man who died years before in an auto accident. The author weaves the two deaths, the two loves, the two eras, the two realms, and the two women's process into a pattern as beautiful and complicated as life itself, as haunting as untimely death. This remarkable story of love and letting go, with its bright and engaging characters, will twine itself around the reader's heart like jasmine around a trellis.

The author, Ronlyn Domingue, was born and raised in Louisiana, where she still lives, and her first novel is saturated with the language and languid sensuousness of New Orleans. Her work as a grassroots organizer finds a voice through her plucky narrator Razi, who helps educate women (illegally) on birth control. She has also worked as a project manager, teacher, and grant writer, and her short stories have appeared in a number of reviews. Domingue has created a rich, multi-layered world in which she allows herself and her readers to probe and explore the meaning and purpose of life, death, love, time, forgiveness, redemption, desire, and transcendence, with a cast of characters we would like to include on our list of friends—and she has done it with wit, grace, a sense of wonder, and the sure hand of one who has looked deeply into matters of the heart.

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