Westlake Soul

Rio Youers, 243 pgs, ChiZine Publications, chizinepub.com, $17.95

To believe in a world without limits, you have to inherently trust your protagonist. Of all the superpowers author Rio Youers summons for Westlake Soul, the narrator of his short novel by the same name, his trustworthiness is his—and the book’s— strongest attribute. Westlake Soul is a surf champ turned super-genius trapped in a permanent vegetative state, projecting his consciousness around the universe from the comfort of “the groovy room” in his Hallow Falls, Ontario home. While his family wipes drool from his mouth and changes his adult diapers, he rides abstract waves even greater than the literal ones now barred by his broken body. But mostly, he stays alive: battling the ever-present Dr. Quietus, his own mortal enemy, whose allies lurk ever closer. The most interesting thing about Westlake Soul is the space it occupies. Westlake’s world is split between physical limitations and mental limitlessness. Somewhere between the tangible world and the intangible lies a reality rarely touched upon. What goes on in a person’s head when they can’t physically communicate with the outside world? Youers provides a hyper-realistic answer to this question, creating a world that seems dangerously tempting to those who come face-to-face with it. Rarely does Youers veer towards advocacy in his treatment of the complex mental space of non-communicative patients. Instead, Westlake’s intelligence, paired with the omnipresence of Dr. Quietus, mirrors the pendulum of hope and despair experienced by Westlake’s family as they struggle to decide what is best for all of them. In Westlake, Youers has crafted a character we’re relentlessly rooting for, even when it seems impossible, or indulgent, to do so. “I’m going to show you so much cool stuff,” Westlake tells us. And through this solid narrative voice, Youers does. (Haley Cullingham)

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