The Mercy of Thin Air

A Novel

About The Book

In 1920s New Orleans, Raziela Nolan's magnificent love affair is interrupted by her untimely and tragic death. Immediately after, she chooses to stay between -- a realm that exists after life and before whatever lies beyond it. From this remarkable vantage point, Razi narrates the story of her lost love as well as of the relationship of Amy and Scott, a young couple whose house she haunts seventy years later. It is their own troubled story that finally compels Razi to slowly unravel the mystery of what happened to her first and only passion, Andrew, and to confront a long-hidden secret.
The Mercy of Thin Air entwines two heartbreaking and redemptive love stories that echo across three generations and culminates in a finish that will leave readers breathless. It is a poignant and brilliant first novel that beautifully captures the nature of love and shows how it transcends all barriers -- even death.

Reading Group 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?

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Ronlyn Domingue is the author of The Chronicle of Secret Riven, The Mapmaker’s War, and The Mercy of Thin Air, which was published in ten languages. Her essays and short stories have appeared in several print and online publications, including New England Review, Shambhala Sun, and The Nervous Breakdown. Connect with her on RonlynDomingue.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (September 13, 2005)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416524656

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

"Entrancing and ethereal." -- Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"This is that rarest of first novels -- a truly original voice, and a truly original story." -- Jodi Picoult, New York Times bestselling author of The Tenth Circle

"Through the alchemy of Domingue's rich, lovely prose we are transported back and forth through time." -- The Boston Globe

"Filled with vivid descriptions of . . . 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." -- Library Journal (starred review)

"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)

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Ronlyn Domingue