In Stephen Lovely's debut novel, Irreplaceable, Alex loses his young, athletic wife in a horrific biking accident in which she is hit by a truck, and when Isabel is declared brain dead, Alex and his mother-in-law attend to the dispensing of her organs, as specified by Isabel on her "organ donor" card. They both struggle with the barbaric nature of the extraction, but the reality of what Isabel has done to her grieving family becomes even more difficult when the heart recipient initiates a relationship with Alex and Isabel's mom, Beatrice.
Alex, defiant that he can't deal with the heart recipient, shuts her out, but Beatrice begins an email correspondence with her mother. Complications ensue as both mother and husband try to deal with the grief of their loss and the developing relationship with the heart recipient. Alex tells Beatrice that he can't deal with "the laying on of the hands. I'm supposed to forgive and heal. I'm not ready to forgive and heal. I don't have the inclination or the power. And it's not my responsibility. I don't owe them. If anything, they owe me."
To further add to the complexities of relationships is the man responsible for Isabel's death. Even though he was acquitted of any wrong doing in the accident, he hides a secret, and his need to be noticed becomes a bizarre twist in the story. He says at one point: "Donors. Donors are amazing, generous folks. But let's fact it, donors are just people with cards in their pockets. You need more than a donor. You need an agent of destruction ... the American Automobile Death System."
Lovely's fictional approach to this controversial issue is a page turner. Not only does Lovely invite you into the lives of the characters involved -- but he spares no details as he outlines the process of taking the organ from the body. Then he equally illustrates the surgery on the other end --- as the medical team preps the recipient for the organ. Lovely gives it in all its rawness and savagery --- it was compelling as well as a moment of "oh, yowser."
Lovely vividly describes his characters -- their sufferings, their insecurities, their less than noble intentions, and he uncovers how putting donors and recipients together to deal with the grief of loss and the celebration of life makes for interesting human relationships. Really.
As Alex thinks about the time that has passed since he lost his wife Isabel, he notes, "[I] have to work harder, concentrate more intently to conjure visions of her, to pull in each gauzy, tenuous memory and hold it down long enough to recall what she looked like or said...."
Anyone who has dealt with the sudden loss of a loved one will know that Lovely nailed this ... but add to it -- the eerie, yet surreal, knowledge that the heart of that loved one beats somewhere else....
Yeah. Good stuff.