Amy Porter feels directionless and unfulfilled. Currently living out her existence in the retail purgatory that is ORSK — a big-box furniture store and a flagrant IKEA knockoff — that barely pays her enough to make rent, she wishes for better things. Her aspirations aren’t unreasonable: she’d be grateful for a whatever desk job in a whatever office.
For her, the world was divided into two kinds of jobs: those where you had to stand up, and those where you could sit down. If you were standing up, you were paid hourly. If you were sitting down, you were salaried.
But it’s indicative of her present melancholic mindset that she considers relocating to a different ORSK location in another town her only viable prospect. Her transfer application is subject to the whims of Basil, though, her overbearing bore of a supervisor, so she opts to spend her remaining time in the location being as inconspicuous as possible.
A strategy that is immediately undermined by the continual discovery of damaged inventory, among other odd occurrences. Basil suspects someone is squatting on the premises after closing and, determined to find this trespasser, recruits a couple of employees to that end. Amy, despite her best efforts at imperceptibility, is one of the drafted. She’s reluctant, but needing both to stay in Basil’s good graces and the extra money, she agrees, thinking that nothing will come of the search, anyway.
But the figurative hell of the store is made manifest when, instead of a human intruder, they find a vindictive specter determined to make the ORSK partners the latest in its long line of victims.
Horrorstör was a fun, interesting read. Fun in the sense that it’s more on the playful side of the horror spectrum, full of whimsical, clever devices (my favorite: the promotional material for ORSK furniture pieces that precede every chapter, which begin like regular, mundane ads but get increasingly sinister as the book progresses). Interesting because this is an earlier work of an author I consider a favorite, and it was fascinating to see the foundations being laid out for what would be recurring themes and motifs in his later stories: the resolute and nuanced female lead; the importance of carving out your own space in a cruel and rudderless world; the almost irreverent approach to horror, boasting an almost comedic tone that is disrupted suddenly by moments of shock and terror (mostly involving rats and confined spaces — not a Hendrix book if the protagonist isn’t at one point stuck somewhere with various vermin crawling all over them). It’s a Grady Hendrix novel, through and through, but it’s also very much the work of a writer trying to find his voice. Its seams are visible: the characters have iffy morals and motivations; the themes spelled out rather than demonstrated; the balance between mood and style inconsistent, at times toppling one another.
Still, I enjoyed this for what it was. I like the conceit of a commonplace commercial structure being the passageway for a demonic dimension (capitalism is literally hell, etcetera). Hendrix’s writing is, despite some stumbles, clear and effortless — the man writes compulsively readable books. Amy was a solid protagonist, a direct precursor to all the great women that populate the rest of Hendrix’s output. Also, the book itself is laid out like an IKEA catalog, and that’s just fun.
It’s less polished work, but that’s characteristic of journeyman efforts, and I do wonder if I would have enjoyed this novel a lot more if I had read it sooner. I wish I could have connected more with the story, but mostly I found that it lacked the emotional punch that I’ve come to expect from Hendrix’s books.