Book Review: 'Westlake Soul' by Rio Youers


Last year, Rio Youers, author of Mama Fish, Old Man Scratch, and End Times, released one of the best horror short story collections ever written, Dark Dreams, Pale Horses, but with his new novel, Westlake Soul, Rio has outdone himself. Everything you'd expect from Rio is there—the smooth prose, the clever wordplay, similes and metaphors just this side of Raymond Chandler's—but something's changed. He's grown. He's matured. When I read Dark Dreams, Pale Horses, I read the work of a writer—I thought—at the height of his powers, in full control, and with a voice no less powerful than the best speculative fiction has to offer. Now, I know that what I'd read was only the beginning. With Westlake Soul, Youers has established himself not only as one of the very best voices in speculative fiction, but as one of the best and most important voices in all fiction.

Westlake Soul is the story of the eponymous character's battle for life and love. A former surfing champ, Westlake is left in a vegetative state after a horrific accident. While those around him believe that he's brain dead, Westlake is not only fully aware but also possesses new abilities—spiritual traveling, super-human intelligence, mind reading. He uses these powers to help those he loves and those in need, but—like any superhero—a super villain stalks him. As his body withers, Westlake must learn what it truly means to be alive and to love in order to save himself and those he cares about, before it's too late.

Equal parts contemplation on the meaning of life and superhero tale (complete with a lovable sidekick—the dog, Hub), Westlake Soul is a novel not easily described, but undeniably powerful and unforgettable. Reading it, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to the best of Harlan Ellison®, because like Harlan, Youers takes an idea bordering on the absurd and makes it not only believable, but gut-wrenchingly honest, real, and emotionally affecting. This is a novel that will stay with you long after you've read its last words. It's a novel that will affect the way you see the world, a novel that will change you. Westlake Soul goes beyond labels, be they genre labels, descriptors, or praise. It is simply one of the best novels this reviewer has ever read, and he's read more than his fair share. Westlake Soul is a masterpiece. It's the type of novel that will be read and re-read for years, a novel that writers will point to as the book that made them want to write or taught them how. It's that good. I could continue to pile on the praise, but I don't think that'll do this review or the book any justice. Just read it, and you'll understand.