In his latest, Horrorstor: A Novel, prolific critic and New York Asian Film Festival co-founder Grady Hendrix imagines an IKEA knock-off as the site of deep existential horror, a trap for its employees and customers from which there is no escape. I have to say, that’s not much of a stretch.
Part design project, part rapid-fire horror novel, Horrorstor is set in an overnight shift at ORSK, an IKEA competitor plagued by by a rash of late-night vandalism and strange smells. Uptight manager Basil recruits slacker Amy and ORSK lifer Ruth Anne to skulk around the store after business hours in the hopes of catching the culprit, only to discover that it’s more than just some homeless person breaking all of the cheap, Scandinavian furniture.
At 243 pages and designed by Andie Reid to emulate the look of one of IKEA’s hefty design catalogs, Hendrix’s latest book kind of barrels through its plot, dropping in horror movie tropes left and right disguised as affordable living furniture. If you’ve followed any of the author’s work in film and genre criticism, you know the guy knows his stuff – from the many ways horror and killing can be made more intimate, to an expansive history of some of the figures and characters who make up Hong Kong film.
Amy gets a quickly sketched, low aspirations lower class origin story, a wage slave trapped in retail hell, who might just come out of the other side of a literal hell before the story is through. Whether or not she survives her night with ORSK and the nearly Satanic boogeyman marshaling the dark spirits inside of it, her story is supposed to mean something. I suspect she’s supposed to be smart and sarcastically funny in the way of someone out of a wage slave comedy, but so much of what we know about her comes through Hendrix’s narration, and we don’t really get a sense of her character, although the broadly-defined Basil, Ruth Anne and would-be ghost hunters Matt and Trinity feel more fleshed out if only because they’re so familiar for the workplace genre.
The economy of Hendrix’s plot means that we’re rushed through what should be a mind and spirit-crushing experience for Amy in the span of only a few pages – that she comes through it and guides us through the inevitable reversal feels underdeveloped (even as Hendrix conjures up some wonderfully gruesome imagery to accompany the torture of our leads).
Reid’s designs get to shine throughout, punctuating each early chapter with a piece of the cheap and functional furniture you might find at your local, labyrinthine modernist living store. But later chapters twist and morph the designs into infernal torture devices used to break the wills of our characters. Part of me wishes Hendrix and Reid had deployed their efforts to go full-on with the evil furniture catalog gimmick.
Hendrix keeps the book afloat with the promise of more horror to come, but like the IKEA furniture that inspired it, Horrorstor is brutally functional while losing out on some needed form.