When I tell somebody why they have to read Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstör, I like to mention that it’s a novel that comes in the form of a retail furniture catalog, complete with illustrations of specific products that are featured in each chapter. But when I urge somebody to read this, I try to emphasize that, much like other aesthetically unique novels such as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, the novel itself is quite good.
Horrorstör tells the story of an Ikea-like home goods store called Orsk. An introverted young woman named Amy is one of a number of employees unhappily slaving away. An unsympathetic and tunnel-visioned manager named Basil is raising the pressure even higher because the store is about to be audited—and in direct conflict with that, something strange is happening in the store: furniture is being inexplicably damaged and soiled in the night. To try to stop the menace at work, Basil recruits Amy and another employee, the ever-cheerful veteran Ruth Anne, to spend the night in the store and keep an eye out for the vandals. That night, they do discover unwelcome company—in the form of two other employees, Matt and Trinity, who are convinced the store is haunted, and want to film the pilot of a reality TV series about their adventure—and that’s when things really begin to get strange.
What made the book work, like any good, classic tale, was a combination of organic characterization and solid storytelling. Amy is a likeable and sympathetic character, but with plenty of flaws and quirks that made me want to pull her aside and talk to her. Basil, meanwhile, is everything you’d expect from a manager whose sole concern is business, and who only cares about how his employees are feeling if it would affect his store. Along with the overly-nice Ruth Anne, Basil is the source of many an eye-roll; yet as the long, dark night unfolds, both of them show a number of unexpected turns of hearts and minds. And while Matt and Trinity could have been (and at first, very much are) stereotypes straight out of the Nerd Herd in the TV show Chuck, the events of Horrorstör affect them every bit as much as everyone else.
But what happens during this long night in Orsk, you may ask? Naturally, I can’t tell you, but I’ll say this much: everything about the store comes into play, from the various furnishings to the very layout of the store. The novel is as much a dark satire of retail stores everywhere as it is an adventure in its own right. And yes, it’s a creepy read; make no mistake about it—this book is most definitely a horror novel, with some truly unsettling moments, and a few images that won’t easily be forgotten.
I myself have worked nine years in retail, and I can honestly say that anybody whom has unhappily served in retail will get even more of a kick out of this fun, wild read. I don’t know how well it would read as an e-book, but as I flipped through this catalog, I found myself laughing out loud, then very quickly falling silent, eyes widening, as the eerie events unfold in the home goods store from hell.