Horrorstör: A Novel by Grady Hendrix (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2014. 240 pp)
Grady Hendrix has written for Variety, Slate, the New York Post, Playboy, Village Voice, Strange Horizons, and the anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination. He spent several years answering the phone for a parapsychological research organization. He is currently employed by Orsk, Manhattan.
Work as Occupation
It’s startling and a bit over the top, but the theory behind work hasn’t changed much. We still live in a Taylorist world where the heart and soul of employee matter little and the efficiency and productivity of the employee matter greatly. The marketing team can dress up the work in all these high-minded ideals but too often this corporate speak rings hollow in the ears of the people at the bottom of the barrel.
Sure, people with legitimate ownership of an idea or an organization will find profound levels of purpose in everything they do. But those low-skill employees who are replaceable? It’s just a paycheck. Work is occupation, a sense of occupying space until the next job comes along.
The horror in Horrorstör comes from people driven to mindless drudgery. Grady Hendrix claims that the corporate manifestos of multi-national retail isn’t much different from the slavery of a chain gang.
Set in the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio, off a freeway like all large furniture stores seem to find as habitat, our story resides at Orsk, a pre-fab modern furniture store taking all of its influence from IKEA.
“Orsk was the all-American furniture superstore in Scandinavian drag, offering well-designed lifestyles at below-Ikea prices, and its forward-thinking slogan promised ‘a better life for the everyone.’ Especially for Orsk shareholders, who trekked to company headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, every year to hear how their chain of Ikea knockoff stores was earning big returns. Orsk promised customers ‘the everything they needed’ in the every phase of their lives, from Balsak cradles to Gutevol rocking chairs. The only thing it didn’t offer was coffins. Yet” (9-10).
The store’s employees come from all walks of life, and like many corporate jobs it offers a fair level of mindlessness:
“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” (9).
The protagonist, Amy, is a rootless millennial, dropped out of college, late on rent, and nowhere near the highest rung on the socio-economic ladder.
Her superior, Basil, has guzzled the Orsk Kool-Aid and has an annoying belief that Amy ought to make more of her life by also accepting the Orsk Kool-Aid.
The story begins quickly when Basil asks Amy and a fellow co-worker, Ruth Anne, to take a graveyard shift. For Ruth Anne, Basil knows she’ll say yes because she is an agreeable person. For Amy, Basil leverages her desire for a transfer to get the help.
But why is there a need for this graveyard shift? Well, some strange things have been happening at Orsk. The morning shift discovers broken furniture and odd smells. Basil reasons a transient problem might be in the cards and with corporate visiting the warehouse tomorrow, best to solve the problem now. Amy doesn’t know what she’s about to experience.
“And as her mind closed up shop and went dark, Amy wondered dully if she would be stuck on the hamster wheel forever, stuck in retail forever, stuck at Orsk forever.
But she didn’t have to worry.
Tonight would be her final shift” (34).
As the night’s shadows take over and fellow co-workers sneak in to film a demo for their planned ghost hunter show, things get weird quickly.
Drudgery as Horror
Horrorstör is a fast-paced novel, designed as an IKEA catalog. The experience of reading the book, with each chapter beginning with an advertisement for a piece of furniture, is part of the fun. I wouldn’t say Hendrix has sketched these characters in much depth, but the goal of Horrorstör isn’t really to build literary characters.
Instead, the reader gets immersed in the horror of mindlessness that everyone can experience in a dead-end job with no end in sight. Hendrix just visualizes it and gives this ideas the monster manifestations they need.
If horror is your thing, Horrorstör is a worthy read.
Verdict: 4 out of 5