I love going to a book repository of any kind -a library, a book shop, a friend’s house- and just exploring the shelves. I’ve often found new books just by sniffing around in areas I wouldn’t expect to find things.
This is how I came across Westlake Soul, a surreal, wonderful novel by Rio Youers.
April 10, 2012
I had checked out a bunch of books from the library already (including Dora: A Headcase by local author Lidia Yuknavitch, which I’m eagerly anticipating) and was browsing the new release\recent returns shelves when I saw bright red title above the Science Fiction category sticker on the spine.
Westlake Soul. Interesting, I thought to myself. I may have actually thought more than just that, but I unfortunately haven’t compartmentalized my brain enough to remember. But I picked it up and was intrigued by the plot description.
A surfer with a brain injury, whose brilliant mind is engaged in an epic battle against an evil madman known as Doctor Quietus? And he does this from within a permanent vegetative state? Am I dreaming? Does this truly exist? If so, how quickly can I read this.
I was pawing at Rowling’s new one, A Casual Vacancy, drowning in the characters, plot explication, and the use of “cunt” on every other page (an exaggeration, to be sure) and thought… this is a good book to read in-between chapters\lines\words. Still haven’t finished A Casual Vacancy…
But yes, the book tells the story of Westlake Soul, surfing champion and child of flower-children parents who never met an odd or unpronounceable name they didn’t like (seriously, his sister’s name is Niki, short of Phereniki). One day, Westlake gets cocky and is tossed by a large wave. He nearly drowns, but is saved by a random beach-goer.
He sits in a coma for days and days, only to reawaken as a genius… but his body and conscious brain are atrophied and he remains a vegetable, unable to fully take advantage of his newly minted SuperBrain™.
All is not lost though. Wes’ genius mind allows him to astral project himself anywhere in the world (and he’s certainly more honest and less perverse than I would be given the same situation). He’s also able to penetrate the minds of most people. It isn’t mind-reading, per se… more like mind-interpretation. Westlake receives the information almost like binary data and is able to translate it into a more understandable form.
The crux of the novel deals with Westlake’s ongoing battle with Doctor Quietus. At first, Wes plays it off like a typical superhero\supervillain battle, but it becomes evident just a few chapters in that Quietus is the way Wes sees his battle against death.
Youers does a great job of balancing the humor with the serious and he’s especially adept at funny similes. The prose overall carries a certain seriousness (which isn’t shocking given the subject matter), but Youers makes sure to give Westlake’s internal monologue just the right amount of snark and cleverness to stop the tone from getting too somber.
The emotional core of the novel comes about half-way through, when we discover that Westlake’s new caregiver, Yvette, is in an abuse relationship. Though he’s incorporeal, Wes determines that he has to help her fight back.
I can already see those gears turning, but the story doesn’t devolve into sappy prose, or cliched plotting. Youers imbues Wes’ struggles to help Yvette with the same humor and charm he shows in the rest of the story.
And the ending! This is how all writers need to write their endings, especially within the confines of a non-series title. All I’m going to say is that interesting ambiguity will always trump a straight-forward boring answer.
In my Odd Apocalypse review I complained about the pop culture references Koontz put into his character’s mouth that felt forced. Westlake Soul has its own share of these that felt less forced, but only because Westlake is more in tune with the pop culture world, given he’s lived in it (unlike Odd Thomas who routinely reminds you of how outside of the real world he tends to be). A minor flaw in what is an otherwise fantastic novel.
If this sounds like your cuppa, you could even buy the novel directly from the publisher (and I think you should!).
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