THE MERCY OF THIN AIR
Atria Books/Simon &
Schuster, Sep 2005
Reviewed by Joy
Raziela and Andrew are a star-dusted couple. Both of them are good looking, smart, and talented. Even though they are barely out of their teens, everyone in their 1929 community knows they are set to make their mark on the world, and certain to do it together.
Then Raziela dies in a shocking accident, and life changes for them all. Especially for Raziela, who didn’t believe in spirits and suddenly finds herself one. When we first meet her, she has been a spirit for seventy years, offering guidance to those newly dead and dropping in on her living friends. Not Andrew, though. The pain of losing Andrew has been so great that she can’t even bear to watch him.
Finally ready to find him, Raziela is attracted to a couple who have ties to the time when she and Andrew were together. Amy and Scott, too, have a grief that affects the flavor of their lives. The narrative follows Raziela’s interest in the young couple’s welfare, which leads her to interfere with their environment, amusingly playing the typical ghost. It follows her trains of thought back to memories of her physical life, and around her to the friends she has made among her fellow spirits. By paying attention to the past- and present-tense wordings, we rarely have trouble keeping our bearings. The drift from timeline to timeline adds to the sense of magic.
Also adding to the magic is the intense sensuality of Raziela’s non-physical experience. She is awash in sounds, colors, and scents that she could only partly perceive before, and we are submerged with her. Author Ronlyn Domingue makes it a place where her readers could easily live (or “all too easily,” depending on your viewpoint). When Domingue translates scent to emotion, it gives an enticing new dimension to life, whether that life is before or after Raziela’s death.
THE MERCY OF THIN AIR is inevitably compared to Alice Sebold’s THE LOVELY BONES, another perceptive, compelling book written from the viewpoint of a spirit. I found them both hard to put down; but of the two, THE MERCY OF THIN AIR has greater maturity due to the relative age of its main character. It also creates a more immersive afterdeath experience, including the struggle of emotions so strong they could be our own. The impact keeps building all the way to the last page.
Together THE MERCY OF THIN AIR and THE LOVELY BONES form the foundation of a new genre – afterlife fiction. This new genre that I see evolving is not horror, not fantasy, and not metaphysical parable. It is humans struggling to understand themselves and their lives, just as we do now, but with all the possibilities offered by broader insights and ways of relating to other people. It invites authors who have imagination, love, and sympathy for the human condition to see from new directions.
But before we jump off into the future, let’s give credit in the here and now. Ronlyn Domingue’s debut novel is a transcendent achievement. THE MERCY OF THIN AIR takes the reader into new and beautiful dimensions, vibrant with mischief yet raw with longing. The last time I read a book I loved this much, it became my Favorite Read of 2005.
February 2006 Review
[Note: There is an excellent interview with the author at http://www.cynthiaharrison.com/garageband/ .]
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