Cover image for Irreplaceable
Publication Information:
New York : Voice/Hyperion, 2009.
Physical Description:
344 p. ; 25 cm.
A year after losing his beloved wife in a tragic accident, archaeologist Alex Voorman is contacted by a heart transplant recipient whose life was saved by Alex's wife's organ donation--Publisher.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available

On Order



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.

Author Notes

Stephen Lovely is the Director of the Iowa Young Writer's Studio and a graduate of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He lives in Iowa City with his girlfriend, a photographer. They have 3 dogs and 3 cats. Stephen enjoys reading, gardening, opera, and--for some reason he's at a loss to explain--football.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. Archeologist Alex Voormann and his plant biologist wife, Isabel, had a pleasant enough life in Iowa until Isabel was struck and killed while riding her bicycle. Alex reluctantly complies with her wish to be an organ donor, which saves the life of Janet Corcoran, a 34-year-old Chicago art teacher and mother of two. 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. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

Iowa City resident Lovely's first novel is an overwrought, often excruciating exploration of the ironies unleashed by a young woman's decision to donate her organs. Isabel, a botanist, is riding her bike up a hill on a blustery Iowa spring day. At the crest, a gust forces her into the wrong lane, just in time to collide head-on with a pickup truck driven by Jasper, an aspiring blues guitarist and all around ne'er-do-well. As Isabel lies brain-dead in the hospital, her organs are harvested as her mother, Bernice, and husband, Alex, keep horrified vigil. In Chicago, Janet, whose myopathic heart is failing, is the designated recipient of Isabel's heart. A year after Isabel's death, Alex's grief is still raw, but he's comforted by his kinship with Bernice. He's disturbed when Janet's thank-you notes become outright demands for friendship. Bernice, whose closeness to Alex is threatened by a new girlfriend, welcomes chatty e-mails from Janet's mother Lotta. Post-transplant, Janet returns to teaching troubled youth, while coping with her two boisterous children. Her workaholic lawyer husband David, who lacks caregiving genes, withdraws. Jasper, whose characterization is the most problematic in the novel, morphs from feckless screw-uphe's underemployed and underappreciated at Best Buyto a stalker who's bent on forcing Alex, Bernice and Janet to acknowledge his "role" in the heart donation. Although acquitted at trial, Jasper, sole surviving witness to the accident, withheld one piece of crucial incriminating evidencehe was driving while dialing. In the sections devoted to Jasper, the writer's contempt for him is palpable. Because he killed Isabel he's already the obvious villainthe more daunting challenge, ducked here, was to make him an identifiably flawed human. In the absence of a plot, the action is driven largely by Alex's ruminations, many voiced in long stretches of eloquent but repetitive speechifying. Despite evocative prose throughout, this morality tale never achieves dramatic lift-off. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

When 30-year-old archaeologist Alex Voormann's bright, ambitious wife, Isabel, is killed in a bicycle accident, he is faced with a momentous decision. She had filled out a donor card, and the hospital staff are requesting his permission to take her heart for a woman who would die without a transplant. Even a full year after he signed off on the procedure, Alex is still conflicted about the decision, so when Janet Corcoran, the mother of two whose life Isabel saved, contacts him, he becomes angry. Her gratefulness reminds him all over again of his grievous loss, and he can't help but feel resentful that her good fortune came at his expense; meanwhile, his mother-in-law has a totally different reaction, believing that her daughter's generous spirit lives on in Janet. Author Lovely patiently and tenderly details all of the emotions of his principal characters as they deal with grief, loss, and survivor's guilt. A sensitive debut novel that assiduously avoids the sentimental while facing up to the difficulties of finding one's way back to emotional and physical health.--Wilkinson, Joanne Copyright 2009 Booklist

Library Journal Review

The last thing in the world grieving Iowa widower Alex Voorman wants is to hear from the woman who now has his wife's heart. It's been a year since his beloved Isabel was killed in a truck/bicycle accident, and he's barely moving on. Close to his mother-in-law, Bernice, he resents her push for him to speak with Chicagoan Janet Corcoran, who was near death until she received Isabel's heart. First-time novelist Lovely writes unflinchingly of the medical and emotional realities that attend a heart transplant and the terrible toll it can take on recipients and their families, who are desperate to stop worrying, and the donors' loved ones, who will never stop grieving. First novelist Lovely throws into the mix a couple of over-the-top elements, including the truck driver, a disturbed young man whose intrusion into the lives of the two families adds a tension that goes a bit too far as the novel draws to its powerful close. Still, Lovely's sensitive handling of families going from catastrophe to something that looks like normal bodes well for a long, rich career. Strongly recommended.-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.