Book Review: Westlake Soul / Author: Rio Youers / Publisher: ChiZine Publications / Release Date: Out Now
Westlake Soul is the new work of fiction by Rio Youers; not a bibliography on the life and times of Gladys Knight and the Pips. It is the emotional and thought-provoking tale of a young man left in a vegetative state after a surfing accident. To the outside world, Westlake shows almost no brain activity. He is unresponsive to outside stimuli, and the doctor’s best medical advice is to let his physical body pass on. The man he once was has long since flown the coup.
But Westlake isn’t out of the fight yet. The accident has given him superpowers. He can project his body anywhere he likes. He can communicate with animals, most notably Hub - his dog - and he can even give a psionic nudge to people when the need arises. Westlake Soul sees himself as a superhero and has an arch nemesis in the form of Dr. Quietus to prove it. Yet despite all this, Westlake is still a prisoner in his own body and unable to connect to the real world in any meaningful way.
Things take a turn for the worse when the family decide to remove Westlake’s PEG system – a feeding tube straight into his belly – and allow him to die. It’s the humane thing to do, or so the family are told. Only, of course, it isn’t. Westlake is still a thinking, functioning human being. He’s a super genius screaming at the world to be heard and typically the world hasn’t noticed. So the race is on to rebuild his shattered ID, reform the ego and piece together the fragmented remains of his psyche before his physical body gives up the ghost and dies.
Rio Youers is as close to a unique voice as you’re likely to find in today’s world of emerging new talent. The term poetic prose springs to mind. In the hands of another author, Westlake Soul might have floundered. It is ambitious, thought-provoking, and by the protagonist’s very nature a difficult story to write. Youers possesses a skill that, despite the adult themes presented, never makes it a chore. There’s a light-hearted approach in the writing style, a kind of cool touch that makes Westlake Soul a powerful and engrossing read. As brilliant as it is sad.
As much as this is a novel about supernatural abilities, at its heart Westlake Soul is about family life and resonates with emotion. And isn’t that why we pick up a book in the first place: to catch hold of someone else’s tale; laugh, cry, scream and shout right there alongside them. This is a story about hope, truth, and the lies we tell each other to get through the day. This is very much a novel that says, ‘Life is like this.’
You couldn’t ask for more.