"The most powerful mind on the planet, but a body like a wet paper bag"

Rio Youers’ Westlake Soul is one of the very few books I’ve ever finished and said to myself “I’m going to read this again some day.” There are just too many books I want to get to, and not enough hours in my life to go re-reading everything I liked. But I didn’t like Westlake Soul, I loved it.

Westlake Soul is the story of Westlake, a twenty-three year old surfer, who’s put into a persistent vegetative state by a surfing accident. The catch is that the novel is narrated by Westlake himself, he’s been trapped in his boy, but his mind is working better than it ever has. Westlake’s accident has “flipped the iceberg” of his mind, allowing him powers of perception far beyond human limits (for example, he can talk to the family dog and can “release” a projection of himself to anywhere in the universe), but still his body languishes on life-support and his family is beginning to give up hope.

The central conceit is a good one, but the novel wouldn’t be half of what it is if not for Westlake himself. Youers has crafted a character that can relate this immensely sad premise without letting the novel feel too dour. Westlake is optimistic, funny, affably self-assured, while still feeling flawed enough to be a real person.

That’s not to suggest that Westlake is some kind of romp, it’s not. In fact, if the book goes to some very dark places and if it doesn’t bring you to the verge of tears at least once, I’m going to wager that you’re dead inside.

I sat on this review for a few days, I’d finished the last 100 pages or so in one long sitting and immediately took to twitter and Goodreads to gush. So many superlatives were bubbling up in my mind (“Best book eva 4 real!”), so I told myself to take a chill pill and compose my review in a few days. Well the time has elapsed, and I still love this book. I think all that time to think on it has actually enhanced my appreciation for it.

I’ve covered Youers’ work once before on the blog, and somewhere in that review of Mama Fish (which is still awesome) I implied how great this guy was going to be, Westlake is proof-positive of that. What a great book. Pick it up ASAP, you’ll thank me.

"Plag Meen": Mama Fish by Rio Youers

My to-be-read pile, isn’t really a pile, it’s more like an entire bookshelf. Unwieldy to say the least. That’s why I’ve been taking this break to read. A lot. I can’t write up every book, doesn’t mean I didn’t like them, it just means they aren’t topical (for example, I just finished Bloodstone by Nate Kenyon, a very good book well worth your time, but also one that’s been out for a while and received some great write ups by people better qualified than me).

I’ve been trying (and failing) to keep up with Shroud’s novella series. I loved Tom Piccrilli’s All You Despise, already reviewed the first Hiram Grange and I am more than halfway through R. Scott Mccoy’s Feast as I write this. Which brings us to the topic of discussion: Rio Youers’ Mama Fish.

The page count is slight but the plot and emotion outweighs that of any book in recent memory. In Mama Fish, Youers bounces from 1986 to present day to tell a genre bending story that is humorous, heart breaking, and funny while being both in awe and critical of the “wired” world we now inhabit. He does all this in crisp prose and a narrative voice that is sly, but never over indulgent.

The story is narrated by Patrick, a thirty six year old paraplegic who reminisces about his high school days and the strange boy, Kelvin Fish, that he tried to befriend with disastrous results. To summarize any more would ruin it. Just get the book.

The juxtaposition of Patrick’s adventure as a kid, all of his internal flights of fancy kept intact, with his world-weary observations about technology and the way we grow dependent on them are both frightening and frighteningly accurate.

I haven’t read his other books (something I will be sure to alleviate soon), but I can say that Mama Fish is the work of someone not afraid to mix it up. A confident voice untethered by the preconceived “demands” of a certain genre (be it horror or otherwise). A smart book that doesn’t talk down to readers, and rewards them for their intelligence. This was easily one of the best books I read this year and further proof that some of the best stuff comes from the small press.