“Stephen Lovely’s debut novel is wise, heartbreaking, funny, and human in every possible way. In this debut novel, he manages to humanize the sterile world of heart transplants, the faceless victims and lucky receivers of their organs, and the families who are touched forever by happenstance. IRREPLACEABLE is unforgettable. I simply love this book.”
– Ann Hood, author of Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine
“You may think you know the drama at the center of this accomplished debut novel: the agony and the joy that attends a heart transplant operation. Please, think again. Stephen Lovely has imagined his way deep into to the lives of his characters and evoked their varied experiences with remarkable insight and eloquence. In his sure hands it’s all been made new -the desperate grief, the wonder of a reclaimed life. IRREPLACEABLE is a rich, poignant and powerful book.”
– John Dalton, author of Heaven Lake
“Lovely’s debut novel, a touching journey of the heart, tracks what happens to two Midwestern families after a death and a gift of life…..Lovely thoughtfully weaves the tales of these two families together, tracing the realities of love and loss of all kinds as Alex attempts to move on, the man who was driving the truck that killed Isabel begins popping up in unexpected places, and Janet seeks out Alex and Isabel’s mother to thank them and express her guilt and empathy. Lovely does a great job of staying out of sappy melodrama as the gravity of Isabel’s death pulls the cast together in memorable fashion. The delicate handling of loaded material, attention to detail and depth of character make this a standout.”
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
One windy April afternoon, a young woman bicycles alone along a stretch of Iowa highway. She’s pedaling hard, hurrying to get home in time for dinner…
Alex Voormann is a cerebral thirty-year-old archaeologist married to the woman of his dreams-a beautiful, ambitious botanist named Isabel. When Isabel, an organ donor, is killed by a reckless driver, Alex reluctantly consents to donate her heart.
Janet Corcoran is a young, headstrong mother of two, an art teacher at an inner-city school in Chicago. Sick with heart disease, she is on the waiting list for a transplant, but her chances are slim. She watches the Weather Channel, secretly praying for foul weather and car accidents, a miracle. The day Isabel dies, she gets her wish.
Flash forward a year. Janet sends Alex a long letter. She’d like to learn something about the woman who saved her life. Alex isn’t interested in talking to the recipient of his dead wife’s heart. Since Isabel’s accident, he’s become grief-stricken and bewildered. His closest companion is his mother-in-law, Bernice. They spend their nights reminiscing about Isabel and hiding out from the world. Meanwhile, a local blues musician named Jasper, the man responsible for Isabel’s death, attempts to atone for his misdeed. Jasper is devastated by the knowledge that he destroyed a life but attracted to the idea that he was partially responsible for saving another life-Janet’s. He sees her as his ultimate salvation.
IRREPLACEABLE is the story of what happens after the transplant-not only to Alex but within the concentric circles of family that spiral outward from him and from Janet. Stephen Lovely takes us vividly inside the lives of these characters to reveal their true intentions-however misguided-and gives us a stunning debut novel of loss and love.
STEPHEN LOVELY is the director of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, and IRREPLACEABLE is his first novel. He graduated from Kenyon College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. For seven years he worked as a night clerk in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where the idea for his novel was born. He lives in Iowa City, IA.