Horrorstör, a novel by Grady Hendrix, has to be the funniest book I’ve read in a long time. Everything you’ve read about it is probably true. The premise is based on the Ikea store and catalogue (in this case, Orsk store and catalogue) where strange, possibly paranormal, activities occur within the huge box store in the wee hours of the morning when the store should be empty of people. However, upon opening the store in the morning, there is always evidence of unauthorized activity: broken glassware, pictures off the wall, graffiti, a distinct dumpster smell, and stains on sofas. In addition to being a horror story, Grady’s novel is a parody of the big box store, its philosophy, its staff, and its customers.
Upon morning arrival in chapter one, the staff entrance can’t be used because the access card reader won’t work. All of the staff has to be rerouted to the front entrance which becomes a mob scene until an operations “partner” (all employees are called partners) gets the 2nd escalator reversed so everyone can go “up” to their work areas. Each partner wears a distinctive colour shirt denoting their area of operations where they “spread joy”. Customers “think this is their living room, only with maid service. And you’re the maid,” says Matt to a group of trainees. Amy, who is conducting the group tour, arrived late, and, having seen the writing on the wall, has applied to be transferred back to the store she left 11 months ago to come to this new store which is not making its quota in sales. Basil, the deputy store manager, continually spouts anal policy statements from the employee manual, the arrow-marked route throughout the store is referred to as the “Bright and Shining Path”, and trite slogans are hung on banners all around the store. You don’t shop at Orsk, you have an experience. Only, 5 of the employees are about to have a different kind of experience which will end up with 3 of them missing, and two of them altered for life.
At first, no-one is who they seem to be. Everyone puts on a front they feel is expected in their “partner” capacity, and it isn’t until they are faced with the stress of survival that they reveal their true selves and evaluate who they really are or want to be. Trinity, who believes in ghosts, is convinced there is ghost activity at night. Matt has lied about seeing a ghost because he likes Trinity. Amy is trying to avoid Basil until her transfer comes through. Unsuccessfully. She and Ruth Anne are convinced they are being fired when Basil requests that they come to the “motivation” room. However, Basil enlists their help to work an all-night shift with him to try to catch whoever is committing the overnight destruction. Unbeknownst to any of them, Trinity and Matt will also be there, trying to film a “ghost-busters” episode for their own future show. It’s their ticket out of Orsk slavery.
The whole concept is wildly imaginative and wonderfully executed down to the smallest detail. I loved how the beginning of the book is like the store catalogue: cover, title page, chapter pages all display merchandise, their colours, and their prices. The pictures on the wall foreshadow the nighttime horror to come. Front cover: daylight version of a living room display; back cover: nighttime version. Inside the front cover, is a store map; the page facing it, is the author’s disclaimer, “The contents of this book are not sponsored by, affiliated with, or endorsed by any furniture retailer or manufacturer.” Several documents are sprinkled throughout the book to make it look more authentic. About half-way through, however, the furniture evolves to something more sinister, and inside the back cover, is a complimentary map to the Orsk one inside the front cover, a basement map of a the Cuyahoga Panopticon (a 19th century prison, formerly situated where the Orsk store now sits) with its sections laid out according to the instruments of torture that former prison warden, Josiah Worth, used to “cure” the penitents, and the documents switch to those of the prison.
The adventures/dangers are seemingly endless and could be quite terrifying if it weren’t for the incredibly funny use of the furniture, the store slogans, and the describing of escape routes along the Bright and Shining Path. Hendrix’s descriptions are full of scent and visuals that are delightfully revolting. But when all is said and done, you won’t be able to put it down, and the ending will surprise you. * * * * *
Horrorstör is available from Amazon.ca.
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