Book Review – Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

220px-horrorstc3b6r_book_cover5_star_rating_system_3_stars Emotionally, it’s been an up and down kind of day. I’ve gone from being tired, super stressed, happy, and then weepy.  Every little thing has set me off today and, this evening, one simple email nearly destroyed me. I guess I just need a bit more sleep tonight. So, the plan is to finish this up and head to bed with a good book. There’s nothing that can’t be solved by that. But first we have to get down to business. October kind of got away from me this year. I had such plans to read plenty of horror books but, thanks to the dragging nature of Notes on a Nervous Planet, I ended up only starting one. To be fair to myself, it was one that I had been wanting to read for a while but it’s still kind of disappointing. Especially every time I walk past the pile of spooky books I’ve got still waiting for me to get started on. Both the pile and I know it’s not going to happen now but that doesn’t stop us pretending. I have such unhealthy relationships with the books on my shelves… actually, better make that floor.

Horrorstör is an interesting book that demands to be read thanks to its layout. The story itself takes place in a Scandinavian inspired American furniture store ORSK. Basically, it’s an Ikea knockoff store that sells the American dream with its supply of Swedish flat packs. When it comes down to it, there are fewer settings more fitting for a horror story than one associated with the very real terror that comes with working in retail. And to really bring the horror to life, the entire book has been designed to resemble a catalogue where each new chapter is supplemented with a description of part of the range on offer in store. It’s an quirky and fun aspect that really adds character to the book itself.

And it’s the main reason that I wanted to actually read it. I love books like this. The ones that really try to immerse the reader in the whole experience through unique formats and stuff. But, they also have to have something else to them. And I’ve always been kind of unconvinced by horror books. I have a complicated relationship with horror films because I’m so bloody jumpy but I’m a visual scaredy-cat. Either I’ve never met a horror writer with the abilities to shock me in the same way or my mind just won’t let me conjure up the true horror of the descriptions as some sort of defence mechanism. So, no matter what horrific elements Grady Hendrix might have promised, I didn’t exactly go into this book expecting to be kept up all night.

Which is good… because I wasn’t. There is so much build up to the all the scary moments that it becomes quite tedious. The story is told from the point of view of the a cynical employee of ORSK, Amy a she experiences the worst night shift of her life. Amy and her colleague Ruth Anne, are dragged into the whole affair by their enthusiastic manager, Basil. He has put together the team of three to track down a mysterious vandal who has been causing havoc on the shop floor when the place is empty. Basil is very much of the ORSK ilk and hopes he can influence Amy to change her slacker ways and embrace her future with the company. She just wants to get some easy overtime to pay her rent. Of course, it doesn’t run quite as smoothly as Amy hoped for when it becomes apparent that the cause of the problems isn’t of the living realm.

The main problem with Horrorstör is how rushed it is. After the opening gambit takes so long, the rest of the narrative runs at record pace to get to the end. The characters are incredibly thinly drawn that you don’t really care about any of them. They all feel like stock horror movie characters who have been pared down even further until there is basically nothing there but a name and a single characteristics. Really they only exist so Hendrix has someone to put through the ringer. And he tries to throw everything possible at them. There are countless references to the horror genre in general and it is clear the author enjoys this type of thing.

The only problem is, it doesn’t exactly work. The characters are supposed to find themselves trapped inside a prison that caters to their individual punishment needs in the same monotonous way that their day job does. The parallel between reality and the deadly spirit world is clear but not very well handled. The plot gets too bogged down with needless descriptions meaning it has to rush through the action sequences. You end up not really knowing what’s going on until well after it’s finished happening. There’s no time to really ruminate on the horrors Hendrix is trying to describe. Something that is kind of important in the horror genre, right? Surely dragging out the whole experience is what makes it more terrifying and life-changing?

Horrorstör is a novel that is all style and very little substance. It doesn’t really know what to do with its major conceit and it lacks the confidence to really push it to the extreme. I guess it’s not a horror story as such as it tries to tie itself to the humour side. However, neither the comedy or the terror really work here. It’s so tame and underwhelming. And so quick. Amy’s experience lasts about one page before she’s recovered and off saving people. If the main character is put through such a weak ordeal how is the reader supposed to feel even slightly scared? It upsets me that this is the one spooky book I read this October because it feels like such a wasted opportunity. There is so much potential in this idea but it’s all squandered. And I don’t really understand why. I knew I should have just reread The Monk.

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