Rio Youers’ Westlake Soul is one of the very few books I’ve ever finished and said to myself “I’m going to read this again some day.” There are just too many books I want to get to, and not enough hours in my life to go re-reading everything I liked. But I didn’t like Westlake Soul, I loved it.
Westlake Soul is the story of Westlake, a twenty-three year old surfer, who’s put into a persistent vegetative state by a surfing accident. The catch is that the novel is narrated by Westlake himself, he’s been trapped in his boy, but his mind is working better than it ever has. Westlake’s accident has “flipped the iceberg” of his mind, allowing him powers of perception far beyond human limits (for example, he can talk to the family dog and can “release” a projection of himself to anywhere in the universe), but still his body languishes on life-support and his family is beginning to give up hope.
The central conceit is a good one, but the novel wouldn’t be half of what it is if not for Westlake himself. Youers has crafted a character that can relate this immensely sad premise without letting the novel feel too dour. Westlake is optimistic, funny, affably self-assured, while still feeling flawed enough to be a real person.
That’s not to suggest that Westlake is some kind of romp, it’s not. In fact, if the book goes to some very dark places and if it doesn’t bring you to the verge of tears at least once, I’m going to wager that you’re dead inside.
I sat on this review for a few days, I’d finished the last 100 pages or so in one long sitting and immediately took to twitter and Goodreads to gush. So many superlatives were bubbling up in my mind (“Best book eva 4 real!”), so I told myself to take a chill pill and compose my review in a few days. Well the time has elapsed, and I still love this book. I think all that time to think on it has actually enhanced my appreciation for it.
I’ve covered Youers’ work once before on the blog, and somewhere in that review of Mama Fish (which is still awesome) I implied how great this guy was going to be, Westlake is proof-positive of that. What a great book. Pick it up ASAP, you'll thank me.