Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Columbus, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring wardrobes, shattered Brooka glassware, and vandalized Liripip sofa beds—clearly, someone or something is up to no good. To unravel the mystery, five young employees volunteer for a long dusk-till-dawn shift—and they encounter horrors that defy imagination. Along the way, author Grady Hendrix infuses sly social commentary on the nature of work in the new twenty-first century economy.
A traditional haunted house story in a contemporary setting (and full of current fears), Horrorstör comes conveniently packaged in the form of a retail catalog, complete with illustrations of ready-to-assemble furniture and other, more sinister accessories. We promise you’ve never seen anything quite like it!
Horrorstör is a horror novel for the twenty-first century; no old, haunted houses here, rather, the haunted modernity. The big-box, personalityless flat-pack furniture shop gets a personality… and it’s that of a haunted house.
The first half or so of Hendry’s novel manages to balance the creeping horror of the unknown, the things caught out of the corner of the eye, the labyrinthine unreality of Ikea, the depersonalisation of the consumer experience, with the humour innate to the idea of Ikea as horror setting – the cookie-cutter corporate slogans deployed against the encroaching darkness, the use of morale-building as defence against evil. Horrorstör manages to carry that off really well as we build in horror, seeing the strangeness of a big-box furniture retailer at night through the eyes of its employees; the inherent spookiness and weirdness of being in a place full of unused furniture and false houses.
The problem with Horrorstör is that the second half is trying to be SAW. While the repurposing of flatpack furniture for torture is brilliantly done, attempting to bring in the idea of fitting the torture to the imagined transgressions, and the rather Serious House-esque madness of the warden takes away an awful lot of the force built up in the first half of the novel. This is especially true in the way it takes the horror away from the strangeness of a big-box retailer and into the realm of something else, an external force supernaturally making the Orsk creepy, rather than the inherent creepiness. It seems to spend an awful lot of time building up this innate strangeness only to then abandon it at the last hurdle, almost as if Hendrix suddenly decides he is not in fact confident of his premise and needs to bolster it with something that feels rather bolted on.
The characters of Horrorstör might have something to do with that. Hendrix appears to have done what Whedon, in Cabin in the Woods, did; take the archetypical horror characters, and then subvert things. The problem is, Hendrix forgets that vital last ingredient; so we end up with the stubborn, rebellious woman who learns her lesson about responsibility and others from her experience, the officious person who learns how to relate, the sex-mad alternative-culture girl who is soft-hearted and induces half the trouble, and the sceptic along for the sex and the money. None of these characters, including our viewpoint character Amy, stand out at all, and that means that much of the horror just feels flat, because we can’t bring ourselves to care what happens to these characters, unfortunately.
The final area worthy of comment is the actual physical volume of Horrorstör. This is one of those books where, unless the ebook is designed completely differently, it will lose an awful lot. Quirk’s production of Horrorstör emulates in a number of key ways an Ikea catalogue; each chapter starts with a general description as Ikea uses for each of its product ranges, the physical dimensions, paper and layout are reminiscent of a catalogue, and the front and back endpapers are store maps and advertisements of exactly the kind Idea use. The impact of this is brilliant, and adds a certain something to the consumption of Horrorstör, confusing the story, the artefact-in-the-world, and the story-in-the-world together, giving it somehow an extra layer by which it draws in the readers.
Hendrix’s novel uses a very intriguing premise, and the first half really builds a creepy suspense, but ultimately even the amazing production Quirk have put into Horrorstör can’t lift it above just another disappointing SAW-alike…