Thursday, October 02, 2014

A Comic Horror Suspense Social-Critique?

How many genres can you fit into just one book? Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix manages to include three or four of them -- seamlessly. The cover signals you that this book is about a store similar to Ikea. Look a little more closely, though, at the artfully framed (but inexpensive) artwork on the wall of the beautifully furnished room in the fake catalog:

When you start reading, you will quickly discover that the setting for Horrorstör is an Ikea knockoff called Orsk.  Employees at Orsk feel imprisoned in the maze-like display showrooms. Corporate "ethics" rule their behavior and fill them with dread of losing their jobs. There's other dread, too. Sometimes they go through doors that don't lead where they should. Morning crew members often find unexpected vandalism and messes. Basil, the store manager, wants to find out what's going on -- so he demands that two employees, Amy and Ruth Anne, stay with him overnight to watch for intruders.

Of course the intruders come in not through the doors (those have been blocked by real people who later join in the night of surprises) but by spooky evil-smelling ghosts rising from below the store. Orsk just happened to be built on the ruins of a horrible 19th century prison called the "Panopticon." Long ago, it stood on the same swampy lot where Orsk now beckons to drivers on the freeway to stop and buy cheap household goods and umlaut-heavily-named furnishings. The head of the prison had theories about tormenting or outright torturing his prisoners to make them repent. He was just as well-meaning as the ambitious Basil, who meant well but terrorized poor Amy, who only wanted to have a better life than her past in the trailer park where her mother and step-father lived. Social critique! Horror! Suspense! Humor! All in one tightly-wound tale.

Each chapter heading has an extract from the Orsk catalog. At first these are normal parodies of the Ikea catalog -- not a particularly hard thing to satirize. But they slowly morph into something else, as the story becomes more and more petrifying, with poor Amy tied into a torture chair (sort of like a desk chair) and the other characters suffering in various ways at the hands of the ghosts.

The suspense is well-managed, as the night goes on and on, with almost-successful escapes, nightmare-like changes in the already scary floorplan (who hasn't been disoriented in Ikea?) and all sorts of other horror events. Cell phones continue to work, and the 9-1-1 dispatcher tries to help, but somehow on this night, the police can't find the location or see the store from the freeway. By the end, as illustrated on the back cover -- the store is trashed. The characters end up.... well, no spoilers.

I laughed. I had nightmares. So did a lot of amazon customers, it seems. A good time was had by all.

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

This looks like something I would really enjoy -- both for the story and for the creative whimsy of the conceit! I love the Gurney page! Got to check this one out.