It was dawn, and the zombies were stumbling through the parking lot, streaming toward the massive beige box at the far end. Later they’d be resurrected by megadoses of Starbucks, but for now they were the barely living dead. Their causes of death differed: hangovers, nightmares, strung out from epic online gaming sessions, circadian rhythms broken by late-night TV, children who couldn’t stop crying, neighbors parting till 4am, broken hearts, unpaid bills, roads not taken, sick dogs, deployed daughters, ailing parents, midnight ice cream binges.
Thus the scene is set for Grady Hendrix’s trip into the horrifying world of Orsk, an “all American furniture superstore in Scandinavian drag”. Amy is a “floor partner” on her last legs at the store. She’s in trouble with Basil, her manager, she has no money, no prospects and a bad attitude. But things are about to get much worse for Amy. Because strange things are happening at Orsk, like staff receiving strange messages from an unknown number on their phones. Even with the number blocked, the messages still slip through at all hours, just one word, help. Amy’s manager Basil demands she and her colleague Ruth Anne stay at the store overnight, in exchange for double overtime pay and a transfer to a different, less freaky store, as part of an internal investigation into some break-ins and stock damage at the store. And it’s at night that things start to get really weird.
In the hall, she could feel the empty spaces of Orsk all around her, 220,000 square feet isolating her in the middle of a maze. The service hallways, the back of house, the Warehouse, the Market Floor, the Showroom, the immense parking lot that separated them from the highway. Orsk was so big it needed a certain number of people on the premises to keep it under control. Three of them weren’t enough. The store was stirring, restless, growing slowly. Emptied of people Orsk felt dangerous.
There’s two things about this novel that need to be mentioned. Firstly, its design is the most engaging I’ve seen in a novel. It’s simple and it’s that simplicity that gives it its appeal, in my opinion it works better than cult favourite House of Leaves, in which design elements are somewhat overwhelming. But with such a clever design it’s easy for a project like this to be all style, no substance. And that brings us to the second point. Hendrix has actually crafted a great story, that works in partnership with the Ikea catalogue style design, though if I had to pick a winner I’d say the design lends more to the story than the other way around. The creepiness of the story, the slow escalation of tension, is driven by Hendrix amazing attentiveness to pacing. The juxtaposition of the every day and the horrific is perfect. Underneath it all is a subtle distaste for work for work’s sake, those patronising, soul crushing jobs with their unique language and morality. The minimum wage, retail and hospitality jobs that we’ve all done, the company slogans we’ve all rolled our eyes at.
What would I fault this one on? To be honest, there’s not much. I think without the design of the novel the plot wouldn’t feel nearly as engaging, they are an inextricable double act. That may bother some readers. The original premise, Basil’s asking two female employees to work a 24 hour shift with him to catch some vandals, seems weak enough to be absurd. As you might have guessed by the title, this is in fact a horror story and, while it’s not up there on The Shining level of scary, it definitely has a slow burn horrific fear to it that will stay with you after you’ve read it. I have hated going to Ikea for a very long time and now I feel justified in that. It is possible that those stores are actually trying to kill you.Unlikely, but possible.
Horrorstör, Grady Hendrix: four stars.
Read it for: a new exploration of graphic story telling, slow burn horror, that feeling you get when you’re at work after everyone else has left for the night.