Horrorstör: And Then The Real Monster was Capitalism

horrorstor

For those who’ve always wanted a novel about a haunted Ikea knockoff, well then, Horrorstör is the long-awaited answer to your prayers. Taking place in Orsk, a faux Scandinavian furniture store in the heart of America, Horrorstör provides everything you would expect from a horror novel packaged as an Ikea catalogue: umlaut abuse, likeable but flawed protagonists, and none-too-subtle critiques of capitalism. What else could you want, really?

Let’s be real, though. This is a book about a haunted Ikea; there’s no way I wouldn’t be there for that shit.

And for the most part, Horrorstör delivers—I read the whole book in one day, so there’s no doubt it held my attention. Is Grady Hendrix going to be up for a Nobel anytime soon? Probably not, though considering Bob Dylan, anything’s possible I suppose. I won’t deny that Horrorstör had a few rough edges, but it was a silly, enjoyable read and I can always appreciate one of those.

Plot-wise, Horrorstör can be summed in roughly three words: haunted fake Ikea. More precisely, it’s about a group of hapless Orsk employees who—knowing that shit has been shady at their store but unwilling to jump to supernatural conclusions—decide to take an extra night shift, to catch whoever has been screwing around with their stock. Things go smoothly for a while, enough so that we (and our main characters) are lured into a sense of security.

And then someone decides to hold a seance.

That’s roughly where Horrorstör begins its shift from the “comedy” to the “horror” part of its branding. Up until it, we’ve had some scary moments, but nothing truly horrifying—there are hints of danger, but the first third of the book is essentially a tease. An entertaining tease, yes, but one without too much real threat. Turns out, however, when your fake Ikea is built on a nineteenth-century version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, you can’t escape danger forever. Especially if you’re stupid enough to hold a fucking seance.

That’s not entirely fair to the book’s characters, I guess, who don’t know that they’re in a horror novel (even though they’ve definitely read enough of them to know not to hold a seance in an abandoned building). As our main character, Amy, puts it, “No one had ever been murdered in a Best Buy or kidnapped in a Target.” (Oddly enough though, a number of zombie apocalypse stories do feature supermarketsa commentary on late capitalism and alienation of labor, perhaps?) Big corporate stores are dull, not spooky—dead before they have a chance to accumulate any ghosts. You might get bored to death inside one, but you won’t get murdered.

Horrorstör knows this, and it plays with the dissonance for all it’s worth, with characters getting trapped in Liripips (bargain bin wardrobes) and nearly being crushed by Brookas (“available in forest green, aubergine, cardinal, and night”) and Poonangs (apparently armchairs, though they aren’t featured in the catalog). Amy’s Orsk training becomes a life-saving plot point multiple times, while company jargon like “scripted disorientation” comes to gain sinister quality. This isn’t a horror story that just happens to take place in a haunted fake Ikea; it’s a story about a haunted fake Ikea, and the weirdness and vaguely unsettling vibes that comes with the corporate environment like that. “The hard work makes Orsk a family, and the hard work is free”—that’s one hundred percent not cultish or creepy at all, no. I mean, Orsk is built on the grounds of a former prison. The metaphorical implications aren’t terribly hard to grasp.  

At times, these implications get hammered down a little too hard—okay, we get it, late capitalism is a prison, no need to literally have your characters say it out loud—but for the most part, this heavy-handedness is eclipsed by the unexpected rewards of Horrorstör. I came to Hendrix for slightly cheesy horror and riffing on Ikea, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I came to enjoy the characters. Amy and her coworkers start out as retail stereotypes—the skeptical newcomer, the middle-aged mother figure, the boss who’s somehow bought into all the corporate spiel—but as the book goes on, Amy’s (and thus our) perception of her coworkers get more complicated. Little details—by-the-book manager Basil’s Doctor Who ringtone or Blistex-carrying Ruth Anne’s “My Other Car is a Harley” bumper sticker—come as nice surprises, not quite subverting our perceptions of the characters but expanding them. As Amy (twenty-four, sarcastic, and eternally behind on rent) finds her understanding of her coworkers expanded, she—and thus we, the readers—becomes closer to them. “Orsk is a family,” one of the higher-ups says at the end of the book, and while in context that’s totally bogus—corporate capitalism doesn’t give a shit about you the end of the day—but over the course of Horrorstör, it becomes true for our characters. 

So. Likeable characters, an engaging plot, and a surprisingly nice use of Orsk beyond a gimmick—if you were to ask why I enjoyed Horrorstör, these are the reasons I would give you.

But also haunted fake Ikea. Because, c’mon, that’s amazing.

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