Alex Voormann is an intense, cerebral thirty year-old whose life has been derailed by his wife's sudden death. Alex lives in Athens, Iowa, a university town. Alex's wife, Isabel, was killed in a bicycle accident a year before the novel's action begins. Isabel's heart was transplanted to a vigorous, willful woman named Janet Corcoran who teaches art at a predominantly-Mexican high school in Chicago. Guilt about Isabel's death and concern for Isabel's family have driven her to get in touch with Alex and with Isabel's mother, Bernice, who also lives in Athens. Alex regards Janet as a bizarre outgrowth of his tragedy, and doesn't want anything to do with her. Bernice, long-divorced and estranged from her son, is interested in getting to know Janet and her family. Bernice and Alex have become close companions since Isabel's death, but their divergent responses to Janet's overtures threaten to divide them. They're also disturbed by a local blues musician named Jasper who was driving the truck that killed Isabel, and who has been stalking Alex, attempting to befriend him. Like Janet, Jasper seeks absolution and assurance of Alex's well being. Also, he knows Isabel's heart was transplanted, and wants to find out who got it. He's devastated by the knowledge that he destroyed a life but attracted to the idea that he was partially responsible for saving another.

Irreplaceable is the story of what happens next — not only to Alex but within the concentric circles of family that spiral outward from him and from Janet.

"Stephen Lovely's debut novel is wise, heartbreaking, funny, and human in every possible way. 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

"Irreplaceable is tender and dear. It explores the mystery and vagaries of life, with such gentle understanding of the way things can fall apart in an instant and, just as suddenly, come together. Stephen Lovely knows the human heart."

— Luanne Rice, author of Last Kiss

"You may think you know the drama at the center of this accomplished debut novel: the agony and the joy that attend a heart transplant operation. Please, think again. Stephen Lovely has imagined his way deep into 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

"Irreplaceable reminds us that the human heart — in this case, a literal one — tethers us to others in ways we couldn't have anticipated...a wonderful debut."

— Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony

Other Editions


Verlagsgruppe Lübbe
Stefanie Retterbush, translation
April 2009


Kathleen Rutter, translation
February 2011

Taiwan/Hong Kong

Global Group
November 2010