by Grady Hendrix, Quirk Books,
In what I hope is just a creepy October coincidence, Horrorstör, a novel designed to look like an Ikea catalog, came into my hands the same day I witnessed multiple social-media conversations about how great it would be to set a horror movie in an Ikea, the big-box store for Scandinavian-style home furnishings. Having never been to one — the nearest store to Santa Fe is outside of Denver — I didn’t fully grasp how closely Grady Hendrix’s affecting horror story, set in a fictional Ikea knockoff store called Orsk, mirrors the real Ikea catalog, right down to the insipid product copy. I did a little research on what it’s like to be in an Ikea store, and the parallels to Orsk are, frankly, terrifying.
This description, offered by a real live Ikea shopper in New Jersey, could be lifted from the pages of
Horrorstör: “It’s a bizarre, otherworldly land that is blindingly white, and there’s really only one path to take through it: first through the showrooms upstairs, and then through the warehouse-type place downstairs, where you actually pick your stuff up in its cardboard boxes. The showrooms are full of extremely modern-looking furniture arranged in impossibly space-saving ways that make you think you can get a lot more out of your apartment, but the truth is you’re probably not as clever as your Swedish furniture overlords.”
At the Cleveland, Ohio, Orsk store, employee Amy is unmotivated and broke. She hates her job and disdains her manager, Basil, for his corporate enthusiasm. There has been some vandalism lately on the showroom floor, and Amy is forced to spend the night in the store with Basil and another employee to catch the culprits after-hours so the regional inspectors coming the next day won’t find anything negative to report. That night turns into an old-fashioned gory ghost story that pulls in themes of repetitive work and its effect on the soul. Are the faceless human figures that seem to want to destroy Amy and her colleagues the ghosts of former prisoners? (Of course, Orsk was built on the site of an old penitentiary run by a madman.) Are they zombies? It doesn’t really matter. Just pick whatever scares you the most so your subconscious will know what to seize on for your nightmares. Since reading Horrorstör, I’ve been dreaming about fetid water bubbling up and running down the walls and about regular hallways that suddenly narrow and lead to moldy dungeons.
Illustrations by Michael Rogalski add significantly to the reading experience. Each chapter begins with a drawing of an Orsk product that’s accompanied by a chirpy description. Deeper in the book, the products are torture devices based on real machinery used in 19th-century prisons, but the copy is no less chirpy. “A slow and steady step and an attentive erect posture are firmly encouraged when you wear this crippling iron cap,” Hendrix writes of “the Jodlöpp,” which features spikes and a bell.
Though the story is simple, Hendrix is an engaging writer and the premise is strong enough to make this tale more than a gag. Real ideas about work, humanity, and self-worth are explored through the characters of Amy and Basil, but I don’t think I ever want to go to an Ikea now.