Warning: Reading Rio Youers’ novel Westlake Soul may cause you to gush a little – with tears AND praise. I have to say I wasn’t prepared to be so thoroughly emotionally drop-kicked by this book, but, like Westlake Soul the superhero, I’m ready to drag myself up and go back for more.
Most superheroes have insane physical prowess: they can fly, or leap over skyscrapers, or bash the heck out of assorted supervillains. Westlake Soul isn’t that kind of superhero. A former surfing champion, with a vibrant, athletic body, and big plans for the future, Westlake has it made until a terrible accident leaves him in a permanent vegetative state.
Although his body has failed him, the accident has gifted Westlake with the power to read minds, to travel the world via a collective consciousness, and to communicate with animals. Westlake desperately attempts to use his superbrain to regain control of his life, but the clock is ticking and his archenemy, the dark and twisted Dr. Quietus, ruthlessly attacks him from every imaginable angle. As Westlake literally surfs his way between his physical world and countless mental states, seeking a way to destroy Dr. Quietus, he is anchored by the deep love of his family and his concern for his care worker, a young woman named Yvette.
What grips you most about Westlake Soul is the titular character’s voice. He’s a surfer dude, sure, and his heartbreakingly funny exchanges with his dog Hub are full of the sport’s vernacular, but you can never forget that he’s also a genius. The marriage of the neuroscience and the slang is sublime. Although the reader is intimately stuck inside Westlake’s head for the entire novel, there is nothing claustrophobic about the experience: as Westlake soars out to watch the sunset on the beach, or comfort Yvette in the face of her abusive boyfriend, or race the Soulmobile along the streets of Dr. Quietus’ demonic universe, the reader is more than willingly buoyed along.
Youers’ descriptive prose is perfectly GORGEOUS (see, I told you I would gush with praise!), full of colour and ocean metaphors that don’t bang you on the head with over/misuse. There is life everywhere in this book, even as Dr. Quietus closes in – and it’s not just in the landscapes Westlake navigates. Because Westlake can see into the minds of his family and his friends, the reader is privileged to share their realities as well, and all of the very vivid emotional processes they go through: love, laughter, guilt, and horrible, gut-checking fear.
If I have one complaint with Westlake Soul, it’s that I’m slightly jealous that I didn’t write the novel myself. It’s the kind of book I would love to write, with its stellar blend of beauty and terror, and a protagonist railing against nearly impossible odds. You can’t help but join in and fight as Westlake’s sidekick, no matter what the consequences (or the many tissues you’ll require).