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After the gift

BY KRISTEN PETERS | JULY 07, 2009 7:21 AM

There’s a concept behind Irreplaceable that is both shocking and heartwarming — in an extremely off-kilter, morbid way.

Stephen Lovely’s début novel, which he will read from today at 7 p.m. at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., chronicles the years following a woman’s accidental death. After Isabel Voormann is struck by a car while bicycling during a storm, husband Alex Voormann is forced to maintain a semblance of composure in handling his personal and professional life.

But through Isabel’s death, another woman, Janet Corcoran, is given a second chance at life. Isabel’s heart goes to Janet in the hours after Isabel’s death and, a year later, Janet wants to talk to Alex about his wife’s gift.

Obviously, Alex doesn’t take to this idea — he has grown little and mourned much since his wife’s death, and the thought of meeting Janet doesn’t appeal to his emotional needs.

If this plot sound familiar, it’s probably because its basically a rehashing of chick-flick Return to Me. Luckily for Lovely, he actually began crafting his novel in 1992, long before the film hit theaters in 2000.

Lovely’s writing is pretty stereotypical. There’s nothing in the lines of this book that showcase his talents. There are timid times of attempted humor, which succeed somewhat, but when they fail, it’s painful to the ears.

The story is flowery, reminiscent of high-school students’ short stories — which makes sense considering Lovely is the director of the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, a summer writing program for high-school students. Lovely does, however, master the art of writing a sex scene without embarrassing the reader — a task that can prove to be fatal to a plethora of novels.

But, set in a university town in Iowa, this novel excites the reader when references are made to this little city. Los Rancheros is the starting place for a nuclear affair between Alex and a new girlfriend, Kelly. Students are referenced, and Alex works as a company that grades papers and exams. Lovely’s fictional Athens, Iowa, does little to mask it’s apparent mirroring of Iowa City.

The book may be a slightly cliché and a little soft around the edges, but Lovely makes his mark on Iowa City, and his work is one that would easily make the Iowa Writers’ Workshop proud. Let’s just leave the rest of the organ-donation stories to the romantic big screen.


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