"The Mercy of Thin Air"
(Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie MAR 22, 2006)
It is the roaring twenties in New Orleans and Raziela Nolan is much more than a flapper, although she does the whole scene - bath tub gin, Model T, jazz, Charleston and Breakaway - like a pro, thank you very much. Razi also excels in her studies at Tulane University and is determined to become a doctor, a gynecologist. She strongly believes in birth control - and advocates it openly, as well as a woman's right to vote and to work outside the home. She is beautiful, vivacious, smart and savvy, fearless and madly, passionately in love. Andrew P. O'Connell is the lucky man. He is a progressive who respects Razi for her ambition, intelligence and independence. When the two first meet, he asks Razi what she wants to be "when she grows up." Her response is that she wants to be immortal...because...."one lifetime isn't enough to make all the trouble of which I am capable."
There are problems in paradise, however. Razi wants to pursue her medical studies at a northern university which accepted her to medical school on her own merit, without any assistance from influential friends or family. Andrew is going to study law at Yale and wants Razi to go with him and wait until he receives his law degree before going to med school. Or, he will ask his father to help her get into Yale so they can study at the same university. He wants to marry immediately. Razi does not understand his hurry to wed....although she is quite sure of her love and of her commitment to Andrew. They are already lovers. She will be faithful to him and does not doubt, for a minute, his ability to remain true. So, what's the rush?
Then, on a golden day in summer Razi slips and falls while diving into a pool. She dies leaving Andrew and her family totally bereft. She never had the opportunity to tell him she had made a decision about their future. She left so many important things unsaid, because she thought she had all the time in the world.
Probably every human being wonders what happens after death. Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? After Razi dies her spirit lingers for a while near the pool where she drowned. Then she tries to remain with Andrew. "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." She discovers, through Noble, a fellow spirit who comes to welcome her, that she is in "Between" - the place between life and what lies beyond. No one here knows what or where "Beyond" is.
Razi is told that her senses of hearing, sight and smell will become much more acute and that she will be able to move fluidly, although invisibly, through the world. "'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.'" In this place of "thin air" Razi will learn all the rules and will eventually become a guide to assist others who are new, to acclimate, to adapt.
As the years pass, Razi tirelessly searches for Andrew. What has he done with his life? Has he continued to think of her through the years? These are questions that obsess her, as she has never stopped loving him.
The Mercy of Thin Air is more than the story of the transcendental love between two people. There is a parallel plot about a troubled young husband and wife, in the 21st century, with whom Razi becomes fascinated - no accident this! Their lives are all intertwined, as Razi will ultimately discover.
While I loved the characters from the 1920s, especially Razi, (she is wonderful!!), Andrew, and best friend Twolly, I did not care as much for Amy and Scott, the couple from today's world. Much of the narrative dealing with their problems seems to be just filler. The prose could have been much tighter. There is a definite problem with editing as there are far too many typos and they do distract. On the other hand, the concept of "Between" absolutely, "pos-a-lute-ly" enchanted me as did Razi's fellow "betweeners," those she meets and hangs-out with in that insubstantial world of thin air.
The Mercy of Thin Air does provide a delightful read - faults included and I highly recommend it.
- Amazon readers rating: from 87 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Mercy of Thin Air (September 2005)
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About the Author:
Ronlyn Domingue was born and raised in South Louisiana. In 2003, she earned her MFA degree in creative writing from Louisiana State University.
Ronlyn has been a grassroots organizer, project manager, grant writer, and teacher. Her writing has appeared in New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, New Delta Review, and The Independent (UK).
She and her partner, Todd Bourque, survived the complete restoration of a mid-century modern house, having done much of the labor themselves. They live in Louisiana.