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Horrorstor: A Novel Paperback – September 23, 2014
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“Horrorstör delivers a crisp terror-tale...[and] Hendrix strikes a nice balance between comedy and horror.”—Washington Post
“...disarming...”—Wall Street Journal
“...wildly fun and outrageously inventive...”—Shelf Awareness for Readers, starred review
“...Hendrix conjures up some wonderfully gruesome imagery...”—Nerdist
“If you’ve ever been frustrated trying to put together furniture from IKEA, you’ll get a laugh out of Hendrix’s spoof mystery.”—New York Post
“...a clever little horror story...the book starts as a Palahniuk-tinged satire about the things we own...turning the psychological manipulations and scripted experiences that are inherent to the retail experience into a sinister fight for survival. A treat for fans of The Evil Dead or Zombieland, complete with affordable solutions for better living.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A very clever ghost story....the story is entertaining and the book itself is laid out like an Orsk catalog”—Booklist
“A fun horror novel....Enjoyable....There is a fair amount of workplace humor, but the book...will deliver enough scares for horror fans as well.”—Library Journal
“...the book’s packaging as a catalog—complete with illustrations of increasingly sinister-looking furniture with faux Scandinavian names—gives it a charmingly oddball allure.”—Publishers Weekly
“...Hendrix is an engaging writer...”—Santa Fe New Mexican
About the Author
Grady Hendrix is a novelist and screenwriter based in New York City. His novels include Horrorstör, named one of the best books of 2014 by National Public Radio, and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, for which the Wall Street Journal dubbed him “a national treasure.” Paperbacks from Hell, his survey of outrageous horror novels of the 1970s and 80s, was called “pure, demented delight” by the New York Times Book Review. He’s contributed to Playboy, The Village Voice, and Variety.
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(Orsk is explicitly not IKEA. It is explicitly a "me-too" store whose business model is based on IKEA, right down to the absolutely-necessary-and-easily-lost tool.)
So dissatisfied employee Amy, very satisfied employee Ruth Anne, and their manager Basil agree, for their various reasons, to say in the store overnight and see what is going on. Even without the giveaway title, anyone with any plot savvy is thinking _This can't end well_.
And, of course, it doesn't. First mysterious graffiti appears in the employee women's room. then Matt - another partner who isn't supposed to be there but is, as is Trinity, because they want to be famous ghost hunters - says the store is built on the site of an old prison.
It's mostly a good read. I say "mostly" because it verges a little too close to torture-porn for my tastes a couple of times. It's also a very quick read; I got through its 243 pages in an afternoon.
The formatting of the book is clever. The whole thing, other than the text, is laid out like an Orsk catalog, with diagrams of various products preceding each chapter. Needless to say, after the scary stuff starts, the diagrams get weird too. So props to illustrator Michael Rogalski and designer Andie Reid - and, hey, to cover photographer Christine Ferrara, who sets the mood quite nicely.
But there’s also a place in my heart for a modern, clean, brightly-lit building that’s nevertheless crawling with the unquiet spirits of the dead. The suburban home built over an Indian graveyard, the supermarket with bloody handprints appearing mysteriously on the freezer cases, the trendy nightclub plagued by unusual deaths and fashionable vampires. Horror writers love this stuff, too — you can find horror wrapped around modern suburban and retail settings in films like “Poltergeist” and “Dawn of the Dead” (and many other early-outbreak zombie movies) and in books and stories like Stephen King’s “The Mist,” Anne Rivers Siddons’ “The House Next Door,” and Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves.”
And there’s also this book, “Horrorstör,” a short horror novel (with strong humor elements) written by Grady Hendrix. Its focus is on a haunting at an IKEA-style big box retail store.
The lead character in the story is Amy, a slacker in a thoroughly dead-end job working retail at ORSK, a furniture and housewares store designed from the ground up to look and feel like an IKEA store. It has the same winding pathway through the store, the same “Magic Tool” required to put every piece of furniture together, the same style of faux-Scandinavian names for all the products. Amy wants to transfer back to the ORSK store she used to work at, mainly because she thinks she’s about to get fired by Basil, an assistant manager and gung-ho ORSK fanboy. But as it turns out, Basil actually wants to ask Amy and another co-worker, Ruth Anne, an older long-term employee who lives for her job, loves stuffed animals, and is adored by everyone on the staff, to take on a special duty — patrolling the store at night.
You see, the store has been suffering unusual vandalism. Some of the glassware has been broken, furniture has been soiled, and there are odd smells in the building. Basil wants Amy and Ruth Anne to join him on a secret late-night patrol, after everyone has gone home, to see if anyone is breaking into the building. They soon find some interesting problems. There are rats in the kitchen showcases, even though there’s no food there and no water hookups. Everyone keeps getting lost, which might make sense if they were just customers and not employees trained to find their way around the store quickly. And the mysterious grafitti messages in the restrooms referring ominously to “the Beehive” are multiplying rapidly.
And they do find some unexpected interlopers. Matt and Trinity are a couple of fellow co-workers at ORSK who have sneaked into the store because they thinks there are ghosts in the building and want to make a reality-TV ghost hunter show. And there’s also a homeless man, Carl, who has been secretly living in the store for a few weeks.
Trinity has an idea. She still thinks there are ghosts in the building, and what’s the best way to contact ghosts? Let’s everyone hold a seance!
And then everything goes straight to hell.
Can Amy and her coworkers survive the night shift at ORSK? Can they escape the store? Or are they doomed to toil forever in the stone walls and iron restraints of the Beehive?
I really enjoyed this book. I burned my way through it as quickly as I could, and a couple nights, where I made the mistake of reading it too close to bedtime, it actually kept me up late. I did think that the very best parts of the novel were fairly early on, when the scares were subtle and more creepy than heart-stopping. The seasoned employees getting lost in their own store? That was weirdly realistic — you could imagine it happening, but you could also see why it would be really unnerving. The odd sounds after the store closes, combined with the sudden unfamiliarity of the environment of the store was also spooky — and definitely familiar for anyone who’s ever had to work late in their office, where darkness and emptiness make the comfortable surroundings feel strange and dangerous.
Even better than that was the graffiti in the restroom. The dozens of scrawled names and scratched-out years, all referencing the mysterious Beehive, feel intensely eerie, a perfect element to place in a modern retail ghost story. There are also some very effective moments when the employees discover that the purely decorative doors in the showcases now open into dank, cavernous hallways leading deep into the earth.
And the seance may have been a monumentally stupid move on the part of the characters, but the way they did it was an original and wonderful thing to have in a horror novel. It’s simultaneously terrifying — because you know what’s going to happen — and hilarious — because you know what’s going to happen.
Once the Big Bad makes his appearance, and especially when he captures Amy for the first time, the story starts moving away from being a ghost story and edging more into torture porn. The story shows some serious cracks in this section, in part because it’s too long — I just don’t enjoy reading multiple pages about someone being strapped into a torture chair that tightens to the point where she loses sensation in her limbs and can barely draw a breath. (This may also indicate that I have never enjoyed torture porn.) But it’s also a bit too short — we’re told that Amy’s mind breaks almost entirely not long after she’s strapped in, to the point where Stockholm Syndrome sets in and she starts worshiping her captor. And then, when she’s released from confinement, it’s not too many more pages before her mind has completely recovered to its previously healthy state — and even improved, as she’s much braver and more resourceful for the rest of the novel.
One of the real selling points of this novel is the fantastic graphic design by Andie Reid and illustrations by Michael Rogalski. The book cover looks like one of the big, glossy IKEA design catalogs — with a few subtle and not-so-subtle differences to give some visual cues to the horrors within — and each chapter opens with a page from the fictional ORSK catalog spotlighting one of their products, complete with IKEA-style art, a faux-Scandinavian name, and upbeat flavor text. But after the supernatural terrors start climbing out of the woodwork after the seance, all the featured furniture gets replaced with medieval torture devices. It makes the story a lot more fun and a lot funnier, while still giving a nice dose of the chills to readers.
Just as in that old movie, where the house is built on the Indian burial ground and bad things start to happen when the little girl looks at static on TV, Orsk, a knock off of IKEA, is built on top of an evil site that mirrors how Orsk runs their business but there is spiritual madness under the floorboards of Orsk.
Bad things start to happen, and of course they get worse. The tale cleverly intersperses IKEA-like product descriptions between chapters that are used in the upcoming chapter. As the tale gets darker, so too the products.
I have to say my favorite part of the story was the epilogue. Maybe a sequel will address the overwhelming fascination between Orsk and evil in a global scale. I would buy that book. As for this one, it was clever, it was light, it was quick and it was quirky. I liked it.