Books: Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

Grady Hendrix is an author who gets recommended a lot by reviewers on YouTube, and it’s really easy to see why: his books are not only immensely winning and heartfelt horror stories laced heavily with comedy, but he also usually has the books designed in such a way that there’s a whole gestalt going on with the theme of whatever the story is. Horrorstör, which came out in 2014, was the first Grady Hendrix novel I read, and I absolutely adored it, not only for the hilarious and legitimately scary story within, but also for its smashingly wonderful book design. Hey, I’m a graphic designer by trade; I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff.

The novel is essentially designed to look almost exactly like an Ikea catalog, right down to the square, oversized format, the minimalist vibe, the color scheme, and the sans serif fonts. Inside the book (at least the print version; I’m not sure what the ebook looks like), there are numerous pages describing different pieces of furniture, the colors it’s available in, and so forth, and there are even order forms in there that look like real order forms. As the book goes on, and the story gets more and more horrific, the representations of the furniture pieces and their descriptions get more and more like torture devices, which is genius.

So why does this horror novel look like an Ikea catalog, you ask? Well, it’s because the setting of the story is an Ikea-like store called ORSK (and yes, it’s capitalized like that). In the universe of the book, Ikea does exist, and ORSK is an acknowledged ripoff, right down to the flat packing, the multi-tools, the minimalist European branding, and the furniture having vaguely ridiculous, Scandinavian-sounding names.

Our main character is an ORSK employee named Amy. She’s a working class young woman, living in a trailer park, and has been trying to pay back her student loans with this job at ORSK. She doesn’t necessarily hate the job, but it’s just a means to an end for her, a way to make some decent money so she can try to better her life. She doesn’t buy into all the corporate nonsense pushed by the management onto the employees; she just wants to do her job, collect her paycheck, and not think about the place once she goes home.

This attitude, though, puts her at odds with the store’s manager, Basil. Basil, while a sympathetic character, is one of those gung-ho people who has really bought into the whole corporate culture, and takes his position at ORSK very seriously. He’s worked his way up to his current job, and is frequently spouting nuggets of wisdom from the employee handbook and insisting that all the ORSK employees are a family.

Amy isn’t really having this, and feels as though Basil is constantly singling her out and picking on her for her less-than-stellar work ethic. In reality, Basil is only riding her because he thinks she has a lot of potential to go far in the company if she would only apply herself, and he wants to see her succeed, but she doesn’t really realize this, so the two are usually in conflict.

After this dynamic is established, we get into the meat of the story. Some odd, random things have been happening around the store during the night after closing, such as items being moved around or broken. There has also been an incident whereby someone has apparently pooped on a sofa called the Brooka. Amusingly, straight-laced Basil refuses to say the words poop or shit, and just keeps referring to a “substance” on the Brooka. And that’s another funny thing, is that all the characters ALWAYS refer to it as “the Brooka,” never just as a sofa, a detail which never failed to crack me up.

So the higher-up managers are going to be paying a visit to this ORSK location, and Basil, of course, strives to put his best foot forward. He wants to get to the bottom of whoever has been messing with things in the store after hours, and he wants to deal with it as quietly as possible before the big bosses get there. To wit, he offers the employees a bonus under the table if they will do an overnight stakeout of the store with him to see what’s going on. He is actually angling for a couple of the big, burly male employees to volunteer, in case someone is actually squatting in the store and needs to be physically removed, but as it turns out, none of them can do it, so he gets stuck with Amy and another woman, a sweet, middle-aged cashier named Ruth Anne.

Now, all I knew about this book going in was that it was essentially “a haunted Ikea.” Which it sort of is, but it’s not really a traditional haunting. Basil, Amy, and Ruth Anne settle in for this overnight vigil at ORSK, and as the night goes on, things start to get stranger and stranger. Some of the other employees come along later to join the fun as well. As I said, it’s not really a ghost story per se; it actually ends up going more in a Clive Barker, interdimensional sort of direction, but that’s as much as I’ll say about it, because it’s actually way more entertaining to go into this knowing as little as possible.

I will say too that even though the third act of this story gets pretty damn crazy, I almost preferred the first two acts, when the employees were just hanging around in the store, shooting the shit, and speculating about what in the hell might be going on. The characters are so well realized that they are actually just a joy to read about, even when they’re just having mundane conversations, and when something bad happens to one of them, you really do get upset, or at least I did. Plus I really loved the descriptions of this darkened Ikea-like store, all quiet and shadowed, where something might be lurking around every Liripip wardrobe and Kjërring organizer.

I had an absolute blast with this book, and every new page and illustration brought even more delights. It boasts a pretty much perfect balance of humor, horror, and heart, and that book design is incredible and made me squee with happiness every time I looked at it. There is apparently an ebook version and an audio book version, but I loved the print book so much that I’m not sure if the other formats would have been as satisfying. Your mileage, of course, may vary, and of course the story is strong enough to stand on its own, but that catalog conceit really pushes the novel onto a whole other level.

Stay tuned for more book reviews to come, and until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

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