Horrorstor, a novel by Grady Hendrix, is about a haunted furniture store called Orsk. Hendrix describes Orsk as an all-American furniture store in Scandinavian clothing; a blatant Ikea copycat. Orsk employs thousands of “partners” in over a hundred branches all over the United States – big boxy identical buildings with huge labyrinthine showrooms designed to make customers spend hundreds of dollars on furniture they don’t necessarily need. What sets the Orsk branch in Cuyahoga, Ohio apart from the rest isn’t that it’s only been open for the last 11 months or that despite thousands of customers pass through their doors everyday, their sales have always been below average. What sets Orsk in Cuyahoga apart from the rest is that it is haunted.
Ever since it opened, the Orsk in Cuyahoga had always been a bit strange. Inventory on the store computers never match the actual number of merchandise on hand, no matter how many times the sales partners check and re-check, security cameras stop working in the middle of the night, partners would come in before the store opens to find mirrors shattered, curtains pulled down, furniture soiled or destroyed. Management used to just ignore the strange goings on, blaming them on disgruntled employees or rude customers who sneak in after closing, but after the Orsk head office decided to send a team to evaluate the Ohio branch, Basil, the assistant manager, decided to take matters into his own hands by spending the night with 2 other employees at Orsk to catch the vandal sneaking in after store hours. Basil asks the help of 2 employees who at first glance seem to be complete opposites: Ruth Anne, a single, middle aged perky lady who works as a cashier who loves her job and views Orsk and all its employees as her family, and Amy, the college drop-out who fails in life who sees her time at Orsk as nothing but a job to endure until something better came along. Basil himself embodies all that Orsk stands for and takes his job as assistant manager very seriously.
The two employees agree to do double shifts at Orsk for different reasons; Ruth Anne, because she was a nice lady who didn’t have anything else to do, and Amy, because Basil promised to pay her cash at the end of the double shift and because he promised to give her a recommendation to speed up her transfer application to another branch. Basil knew that Amy hated him and that despite her intelligence she had a negative view of her job and everything that Orsk stands for.
Unbeknownst to Basil, 2 other employees decided to spend the night at Orsk as well. Matt and Trinity snuck in to the store equipped with cameras and gadgets used to detect ghosts and other supernatural energy. Trinity believes that Orsk is haunted and with the help of Matt, they plan to get great footage of the actual ghosts for their show Ghost Bomb. Matt doesn’t really believe in ghosts. He just wants to sleep with Trinity.
Except for Trinity, no one really believes that Orsk is haunted, even after Matt shared the fact that in the 17th century, on the site where Orsk was built, there used to be prison known as the Cuyahoga Panopticon where prisoners were tortured in the guise of being reformed, thanks to the overeager and insane warden. None of them were expecting to meet Warden Josiah Worth and the hundreds of penitents that night in search of new prisoners; and none of them were prepared for the special tasks the warden had prepared for them to reform their souls.
Horrorstor is a horror story that pokes fun of consumerism and big pretentious corporations which sell nothing more than generic crap that no one really wants. It describes the hellish life of prisoners tortured by making them do senseless, repetitive tasks designed to curb the spirit and re-wire the brain and compares it to having a 9-5 job, going in to work every day and doing repetitive, mundane tasks designed to numb the mind and to kill the spirit. Hendrix compares the prison and its penitents, which were swallowed by the swampland, to the corporate slaves and store that was built on top of it 4 centuries later.
The physical look of the novel Horrorstor is unique in that it is designed to look like an Orsk catalog, much like Ikea’s book book. It has a glossy cover with folded inner flaps which shows a map of the Orsk showroom floor and lists the store’s different departments. Each chapter features a piece of furniture with an absurd Scandanavian sounding name, listing its unique features and selling points. As the book progresses, the mundane household furniture is replaced by torture devices used in the Panopticon with equally absurd sounding names and descriptions.
This novel reminded me a bit of the last horror novel I read, House of Leaves. They have some similarities, like both are about haunted structures which are bigger on the inside than the outside, and have mysterious hallways and doors that appeared and disappeared suddenly; doors that lead to somewhere dark and dangerous. Like the house in House of Leaves, Orsk was also maze-like and constantly disoriented the employees, leading them in circles or in altogether different directions.
Though the idea behind Horrorstor is interesting, the story fails to really live up to its genre. There wasn’t enough focus on the story behind the haunting of Orsk, and actual supernatural activity, and too much focus on one of the characters’ failings; a character who wasn’t all that interesting to begin with. The characters in the novel were generic and I didn’t really feel a connection with any of them, nor did I really care about what would happen to them eventually.
In the end, apart from its gimmicky packaging, Horrorstor leaves a lot to be desired. All of its horrific aspects were a bit watered down – its scare factor wasn’t all that scary; its goriness wasn’t all that gory; and its creepiness wasn’t all that creepy. But maybe that’s the whole point of the novel, to show that ghosts and supernatural events aren’t scary, its the big corporate monsters creating mindless living zombies through mundane, repetitive, senseless work we should really be scared of.
Horrorstor (2014) – Grady Hendrix
Quirk Books; 243 pages
Personal rating: 2/5