Book Review: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

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If you’ve been online lately, you’ve probably seen quite a bit of buzz in the bookish community about My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix, but it just so happens, he’s also the author of this book, appropriately (and hilariously) titled Horrorstor.

Horrorstor is about a group of employees working in a discount version of Ikea called Orsk. There’s been some strange things happening at Orsk overnight—ruined furniture, graffiti, things moving—and one night the manager, Basil, asks employees Amy and Ruth Anne to stay overnight and help him scope out the store to see what’s going on. Of course, Basil has no inklings of paranormal activity—he thinks it’s just someone breaking in and screwing around.

Matt and Trinity, however, have different ideas. They’re convinced it’s a ghost, and they sneak into the store with the intent to stay overnight and film a pilot for their own Ghost Hunters/Ghost Adventures style show which they plan to call “Ghost Bomb.”

With the five of them locked inside the giant Swedish furniture store overnight, they begin to see firsthand exactly what’s causing all the strange occurrences—and suffice it to say, it’s not just some punk kids breaking in. There’s definitely some ghoulish, ghostly goodness going down in this one.

While well-written, the plot of Horrorstor isn’t exactly anything groundbreaking—new building was built on the previous site of an old building where some bad stuff went down, group of characters attempts to investigate what’s happening, vengeful ghost who was a bad person in life continues to do bad things in the afterlife, shit hits the fan. At its heart of hearts, it’s a formula we’ve seen plenty of times before. I’d venture a guess that you could find upwards of ten movies on Netflix with a similar plot.

What makes this book amazing, though, is how it chooses to execute this particular plot through a sardonic and wry commentary on the modern retail industry, complete with a layout that turns the book into a combination of novel and Ikea—I mean, Orsk—catalog, including a guide to navigating the Orsk showroom, ads for various furniture pieces, and even a mock order form. For me, this ingenuity in incorporating the design of the book itself into the storytelling was not only unique, but also downright hilarious.

A few of my favorite things about the layout of Horrorstor:

  • Each chapter is named after one of the pieces of furniture sold at Orsk (and just like the furniture sold at Ikea, I can’t pronounce any of them), complete with a picture of the item and a catalog-perfect description that is spot on in its imitation of the fake perkiness and wannabe-clever used by the retail industry to convince consumers to buy something. As the book goes on, the “furniture” pieces grow more and more sadistic, transforming from ultra-modern couches and modular storage to torture devices like restraining chairs and iron caps—but the captions never drop that tone of fake perkiness as if they’re trying to convince you to buy something. “Embrace the simplicity of eternal repetition with KRAANJK,” one torture device reads. “A rustic handle mounted on resistance gears to encourage eternal turning. Enter a meditative state of despair after one hundred turns, one thousand turns, even ten thousand turns.” I was literally laughing out loud.
Things begin innocently enough, though, with this uncomfortable looking couch. Not cozy, but not exactly a torture device…yet.
  • Grady Hendrix includes his own author photo in the form of an Orsk employee nametag, complete with the store’s obnoxiously perky customer service motto, “Have a question? Just ORSK!”

  • The front cover of the book portrays a cutesy Ikea-style showroom layout where things are just beginning to get a tad spooky via the ghostly images housed in the frames on the walls, while the back cover portrays a straight up hellish version of the same display, where the shelving units have turned into prison cells with bloody ghostly hands reaching out, and torture devices hang from the walls.

  • A “come work for ORSK” poster lingers around page 35, creepily proclaiming, “It’s not just a job. It’s the rest of your life,” and, “Once you’re here, you’ll never want to leave!”

Sometimes the layout of a book can severely detract from the story being told, but Horrorstor is the perfect example of a book that uses the layout to its advantage to enhance the storytelling experience, drawing you further and further in through the imagery, ads, and satire.

Within the writing of Horrorstor itself, I think my absolute favorite thing was how accurately Hendrix portrays the real life hell that working in mainstream retail can be. Between Basil’s eyeroll-inducing commentary on his own management skills (and his refusal to break store policy even when people start getting tortured and maimed by ghosts), Amy’s all too relatable apathy about selling overpriced fiberboard furniture to the masses, and the instant recognition of Ruth Anne as that one employee everyone knows who is way too cheerful and apparently actually loves her job, I assure you, if you have ever worked (and hated) retail, you will recognize your experience somewhere in this story.

Of course, you probably never had a séance on one of the dining room tables you were supposed to be selling (again, I say, hilarious), but admit it—you probably kind of thought about it once or twice. (No? No one else? Okay, FINE.)

If you haven’t yet read Horrorstor, I cannot recommend it enough. It is truly delightful, especially for fans of horror or satire, and despite all the torture and death littered throughout the novel, it’s actually just a really fun read, and a uniquely immersive experience.

What does everyone else think? Have you read Horrorstor? Did you love it as much as I did, or was the incorporation of the layout into the story too gimmicky for you? Let me know in the comments! You know I’d love to talk. <3

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