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Alex Voormann's young athletic wife, Isabel, is hit and killed
by a car. Isabel was an organ donor. Alex and his mother-in-law,
Bernice, are barely able to register their conflicted emotions
blurred by grief when the medical team comes in to harvest the
organs of the person they each loved the most in life.

A year has now passed. Alex, who is actually an archeologist, is
stuck in more ways than one. At one time he had a job he loved,
doing rescue excavation for the state of Iowa. He and his team
would travel to the sites of future roads to be sure there was
nothing precious present that could be destroyed by the impending
construction. Alex had shared his love for science with Isabel, who
was a student working for a degree in plant biology. However, a
year before Isabel’s life was taken, Alex was laid off due to
budget cuts. His search for a worthy replacement job had been
fruitless. He worked for a while as a waiter, expecting to pick up
the job search again. But when Isabel died, he lost all hope and
concentration, losing himself in the pages of tabloid magazines and
in video arcade games.

These days Alex passes time in a job he hates, grading student
essays for a company that scores papers for schools across the
nation. His boss, Diane, constantly questions his scoring
methodology and demands that he reconsider his grades. Alex
continues to live in the apartment he and Isabel shared with their
dog, Otto. At home, he finds yet another grateful letter in his
mailbox from the recipient of Isabel's heart, a woman named Janet
Corcoran. Alex feels nothing but bitter hatred toward Janet. He
only wishes she would quit trying to express her messages of
indebtedness. They only serve to remind him of how much he misses
his wife.

Isabel's mother, Bernice, does not share Alex's distaste for
Janet. Alex and Bernice spend quite a bit of time together, forming
something of a little family in their mutual despair over the loss
of Isabel. Bernice and Alex have begun renting Japanese monster
movies to watch together. Bernice is a cross between a mother
figure and a buddy to her son-in-law. She prods Alex to find a more
satisfying job and is disappointed in his attitude toward Janet. To
Alex's bitter shock, Bernice has actually begun corresponding with
Janet's mother.

When Bernice passes on to Alex the facts of Janet's life, Alex
responds with sarcasm. Bernice shows him a photo of Janet with her
family. Alex is conflicted. He is strangely fascinated by the
thought that Isabel's heart beats in the chest of this red-haired
mother of two. He is also defensive when Bernice tells him that
Janet has to take a regimen of medications in order to tolerate her
new heart. As if anything could be wrong with Isabel's heart! As
Bernice longs to somehow even remotely link her life with that of
the woman who lives because Isabel died, Alex fights any suggestion
that he should also connect with Janet.

Janet tells her story in alternating chapters. She has been
liberated from her old heart into a new perspective of the world as
a glimmering adventure, filled with beauty and sensations. Yet her
new condition is fragile, and she must work to maintain it.

As these characters' stories entwine, along with that of the
person who drove the car that killed her, the reverberations of
Isabel's generosity spread like ripples of a rock tossed into a
lake. This story about a woman's gift of a heart will break
readers' hearts. It is full of yearning, expressed in a wonderfully
understated way. In addition, the characters are sympathetic and
the plot's tempo is beat-perfect. IRREPLACEABLE is a must read.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon ( on January 22, 2011

by Stephen Lovely

  • Publication Date: February 3, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Voice
  • ISBN-10: 1401322824
  • ISBN-13: 9781401322823