“You can’t be afraid, man… not if you want to be alive.”
– Westlake Soul by Rio Youers
Westlake Soul is one of those rare people who have the courage to go out and experience life full throttle. He is a surfing champion. He has a loving family and a beautiful 19-year old girlfriend named Nadia. He thinks that he has the rest of his life in front of him – but it’s all about to change. While on vacation in Tofino, British Columbia, Wes wakes up early one morning and instead of staying in bed with Nadia, he decides to go surfing by himself. An accident riding a big wave doesn’t quite kill him but leaves him imprisoned inside a brain damaged and unresponsive body. In a matter of moments, everything is lost.
“We were supposed to at the beginning,” she said. Her lips tightened. She looked away from me. The light through the window struck her glistening eyes. Not pink sunshine, but the pale silver of a Vancouver afternoon. “I had it all planned, baby. We were going to get married somewhere uncomfortably hot, then honeymoon until our bodies were shattered. You were going to open a surf shop while I deejayed. We’d have two children: Marvel and Calypso. A dog called Jesus. And we’d live happily ever after in a place where you could hear the palm fronds whisper, and where our garden was made of sand.”
(I loved that last line – it instantly reminded me of the lyrics from Hendrix’s classic “Castles Made of Sand” – “And so castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually…”)
Wes is eventually taken home to Hallow Falls, Ontario, where his family cares for him while also praying that he can somehow “rebuild” himself from the inside out. But as the months pass by, the darkness grows and hope dims.
Inside his own reality, Wes is a superhero battling his arch-nemesis Dr. Quietus. He can carry on conversations with his dog Hub and astral project to anywhere in the world. He can read people’s minds and understand hundreds of different languages – but when his family eventually decides to disconnect his feeding tube, Wes realizes that he has only days left to escape his prison – if we can’t find a way to heal himself, he’ll be dead.
As he relives moments in his life and envisions what the future would be like with his loving and stunningly beautiful Québécois caregiver Yvette, Wes also embarks on a mind-blowing spiritual journey that takes him to the mountains of the moon, the bottom of the sea, and the depths of his very soul.
The inspirational quality of this read, for me, was pretty obvious. We all take so much for granted every single day of our lives – what would you do if it were all suddenly taken away? How hard would you fight for the ability to walk, to talk, to love and be loved, to achieve a dream?
After reading this thematically deep, emotionally super-charged, and utterly unforgettable novel, you will see the world – and your life – in a different light. Westlake Soul is a novel to be cherished because it reminds us all not only just how impermanent life is but also how awe-inspiring and heartbreakingly beautiful every moment of our existence can – and should – be.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.
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