A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör is designed to retain its luster and natural appearance for a lifetime of use. Pleasingly proportioned with generous French flaps and softcover binding, Horrorstör delivers the psychological terror you need in the elegant package you deserve.
The first thing to say about this book is that it is a fantastic design creation. The story is set in a cut-price knock-off version of IKEA (called Orsk) and the book's initial appearance is that of an IKEA catalogue. The front cover, at first glance, looks like a perfectly styled room, featuring furniture of Scandinavian design with Scandinavian-sounding names, with bright, modern accessories. A closer look quickly reveals a few disturbing yet subtle details, such as the mouthless woman screaming noiselessly in a picture frame. The back cover is a more horrifying version of the same room. As you flick through the book, you find these design elements continued. There are maps of the store, a guide to your store visit, an order form and even the author profile comes in the form of an Orsk employee ID badge. Every chapter starts with an illustration and description of a piece of Orsk furniture. These look normal at first, but as the story develops, the furniture starts to get creepier, until illustrations begin to resemble torture devices. All the physical elements of the book worked well to form a well-thought out and beautifully executed design which added to my enjoyment of the story. Audiobooks and e-readers may both be perfectly valid ways to experience a book (I use both at times), but this is one book that is definitely better experienced in the physical form.
I don't normally enjoy horror. I'm a bit of wimp who doesn't like too much gore or violence. But the design of this book grabbed me and I decided to give it a go. Luckily, for my tastes, it was fairly horror-light, with a lot of humour thrown in as well. The story opens with the start of a new trading day at a new Orsk store in Cleveland, Ohio. We mainly see the story through Amy's eyes. Amy is a cynical 'Store Partner' who hates her job and whose normal response when anything gets difficult is to quit. Employees and management have been noticing a few strange things happening in the store, like an escalator which is only meant to go up stuck on down (preventing employees and customers from entering the showroom); a couch in the showroom has a strange stain and smell; employees have been receiving one-word texts reading ‘help’ on their phones; merchandise is being damaged. When management notices how high the stock damage levels have climbed, they decide to act. The deputy store manager conscripts several employees to work a special overnight shift with him, to find out just what is happening in the store overnight. The plan is the for the three of them, Basil, Amy and Ruth Anne, to gather in the break room then do patrols of the store each hour until they catch whoever is breaking into the store.
Basil's first suggestion for their patrols is that they split up to cover the area most efficiently. Even a non-horror person like me knows that splitting up is never a good idea and he is overruled by Amy and Ruth Anne, neither of whom fancies walking around the deserted store by themselves. Ruth Anne is especially creeped out by the thought of walking through the store at night, admitting to Amy that even in the daytime she gets lost in this store's showroom. Ruth Anne is a long-time Orsk employee who, like Amy, has transferred to this new store. All Orsk stores have the same layout and Ruth Anne never had a problem over thirteen years at her old store, but this new store disorientates her to the extent that she never goes near the showroom.
On the first patrol, Amy and Ruth Anne encounter Trinity and Matt, fellow employees (or 'Store Partners' as Orsk calls them). Trinity is convinced that the store is haunted and Matt is convinced that he can get good enough footage of the attractive Trinity looking for ghosts to sell to a TV network. Soon after this, they find a homeless guy who has been sleeping in the store overnight. As Basil puts it,
There are enough people running around in here. It’s starting to feel like an episode of Scooby-Doo. Unlike a standard Scooby-Doo episode, however, the horror isn't fake and things start going very badly after Trinity convinces everyone to take part in a séance. The horror aspect of the story really cuts in. But luckily for my squeamishness, it doesn't get anywhere near as bad as, say, some of the descriptions in American Psycho.
One aspect of the book which was more social commentary than horror was the deconstruction of the image of stores like IKEA through the discussion of design principles. There is careful planning behind the glossy image, with everything calculated to increase the amount you spend once you are caught in the store. Matt calls it scripted disorientation. The management style pretends to be a caring family while keeping the focus firmly on the bottom line. Workers are told they are a valuable and necessary part of the team but are really treated as slaves in subjugation to the corporate overlords -
It's Not Just a Job. It's the Rest of Your Life. Corporate jargon comes in for lampooning in this book. The best of the humour comes from poking fun at the corporate world, as seen through Amy's eyes. It also plays with the idea that shopping equals a religious experience. Even the optimal path shoppers are nudged along through Orsk is called ‘the bright and shining path.’
For Amy the question becomes whether the horror of her experience being caught and tortured is worse than the torture of her normal existence, where she finds herself struggling to survive, shuffling around less and less money each month to cover the same number of bills:
The hamster wheel kept spinning and spinning and spinning. Sometimes she wanted to let go and find out exactly how far she’d fall if she just stopped fighting. She didn’t expect life to be fair, but did it have to be so relentless?
Amy is actually tempted to welcome the torture which allows her to stop struggling, and deny the illusion that she can ever do anything to escape her life. However, Amy is made of stronger stuff than this, and actually has a redemption arc of sorts when she makes a decision, that for once in her life she will not quit.
Overall, this book was both a fun read and a little creepy. I really enjoyed it.
It was dawn, and the zombies were stumbling through the parking lot, streaming towards the massive beige box at the far end. Later they’d be resurrected be megadoses of Starbucks, but for now they were barely living dead. Their causes of death differed: hangovers, nightmares, strung out from epic online gaming sessions, circadian rhythms broken by late-night TV, children who couldn’t stop crying, neighbours partying till 4 a.m., broken hearts, unpaid bills, roads not taken, sick dogs, deployed daughters, ailing parents, midnight ice cream binges.
But every morning, five days a week (seven during the holidays), they dragged themselves here, to the one thing in their lives that never changed, the one thing they could count on come rain, or shine, or dead pets, or divorce: work.