Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
Horrorstör is a parody-humor-horror novel about the hell that is working in retail. Designed like an Ikea catalogue, but for the fictional Ikea-knockoff Orsk, the physicality of the book really adds to the depth of satire and emulsion for the reader. The chapters each begin with a faux-Swedish but cleverly-named piece of furniture, complete with description meant to entice the buyer. After this description of a chair, I almost wanted one myself:
Introduce your home self to your work self with the adjustable rolling HÜGGA. Let the creativity you feel when you’re at your most comfortable transform your workspace into a smartspace.
The concept is simple: someone has been vandalizing the store after hours, so a group of employees (partners) stay overnight to investigate. After a series of weird events, what they find out is the store was built on an old alternative-methods prison that “comes alive” at night, the warden of which starts inflicting his punishments on the partners as they struggle to escape. The store gets inside their head, confuses them, twists them around, and tries to convince them to stay.
I worked in retail on and off for almost a decade. My first job was a cashier at Kroger (where I was forced to stand behind the self check-out kiosk for hours on end, listening to the same computerized voice tell customers to “please place item in the bag”), then at Target, where I switched over to the floor after a year. Next was an amusement park, where I worked in, you guessed, it: merchandise! Then came the college bookstore, etc… and this book’s extended metaphor of “retail is hell and won’t let you leave” is pretty accurate.
Literally. (SPOILERS) Two of the characters are sucked into the walls (sort of) and cannot leave. Even the characters who escape, return, night after night (to try and free their lost colleagues/friends). As much as you try to escape working in retail (or even, hell, SHOPPING those giant stores), you can never, ever escape.
Even now, I have a full time career as a teacher, with plenty of hobbies, and I’ve contemplated returning to work retail part-time for extra money. Then I remember that I was one of the lucky ones that got out, and the thought of returning chokes me.
The parody and satire elements were spot on, though, and I really enjoyed the furniture descriptions that soon mutated into torture devices, still with appealing taglines and selling phrases. If this is a metaphor for the fact that putting together your own furniture from those massive retailers IS torture, then it is spot on, and I appreciate it so much.
While parts of Horrorstör are gruesome, it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be/would have liked. I don’t even like scary things, but I felt the ghost story side of things was a bit weak. I would’ve liked something a bit more creative, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.