Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - — Jen­nifer Levin

by Grady Hen­drix, Quirk Books,

244 pages

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.

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