This post is probably not about what you think it is. In fact, I have never been to an Ikea, and have no opinion of it. i know the reputation it has, though, which is enough.
What I’m here to discuss today is, in fact, not furniture stores, but a novel. So why mention Ikea?
Well, it’s pretty simple. The novel is called Horrorstör, written by Grady Hendrix, a title which is a clever pun and stays true to the concept of the book at the same time. This is a ghost story, your basic haunted house concept. Well, except for the fact that it takes place in Orsk, an Ikea-knockoff (acknowledged in the text itself, no less). You have your standard set-up: strange things have been happening, chalked up to some nocturnal vandal(s); so the manager recruits two employees for a covert stakeout. Through events that I will not elaborate on, the group becomes your expected five person group.
As a horror story, there’s enough here to keep the book engaging, but it’s not, on the whole, very scary. There are a few moments where you might cringe, but it’s not a fearful cringe, it’s the kind of cringe you get when, for instance, watching a Mortal Kombat fatality or hearing a bone snap sound effect in a film. But it’s not scary, and some moments are even predictable. There were quite a lot of Chekhov’s Guns — which, if you’re not familiar, is a literary device named for the writer Anton Chekhov, who said”Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” Actually there was one set up very early on that I was worried wouldn’t go off, but very late in the story it finally did, and with perfect timing, as is usually the case with such things.
Usually such predictability and heavy reliance on easy plot devices like the Gun would be detrimental, in my opinion, to a book. But there’s an extra layer here, in that the novel isn’t really intended to be a serious horror novel. That is, while there is a real plot and the stakes are very real for the characters — this isn’t a comic book world where death lasts for a few issues — the novel itself intentionally fits in as many haunted house tropes as it can. There are people who do and don’t believe in ghosts, there are some of your typical events, like blackouts, cold spots, and apparitions. If it’s a traditional part of a haunting, then it’s probably in here. And that’s not a bad thing, because it’s not played as though it’s something original. It goes along perfectly with the whole Ikea-ripoff thing.
On which note I should address the presentation of the book. It’s larger than a trade-sized novel, being a wide, almost square shape. The dimensions listed on Amazon have it at, roughly, 7.5″ by 9″. It’s a glossy softcover, but with flaps like you’d find on a dust jacket, a design which is not unique but is certainly uncommon. The pages are thick, I’d say about 50% thicker than your average page, and of a much higher quality than most book pages. There are the kinds of things you notice when you read as many books as I do. Basically the whole thing is designed to be like a furniture catalog. The chapters are titled with fake Swedish furniture names in parody of Ikea, and come complete with diagrams of the furniture in question as well as a description that perfectly matches how furniture is marketed, and includes dimensions and available colors.
Which brings me to another impressive feature of the book, that of the details. I don’t know if Hendrix studied marketing or just really did his research, but he knows his stuff. The whole idea of engineering a store to maximize sales by subtly manipulating psychology to draw people in and change the way they perceive time, this is a real thing that has been studied. Psychology is a big part of marketing, and that part is definitely reflected here, and quite well. Additionally, Orsk and their procedures and beliefs ring true to real-life retail, which makes me guess Hendrix must have worked retail at some point, for a long enough period to replicate the experience so perfectly. It’s almost a shame that there aren’t any interactions with customers; I would have liked to see if those interactions were as accurate as the employee side is.
Surprisingly for a haunting story, the characters actually feel full and human, as opposed to a common trap of making them each fall into a stereotype and lose anything that makes them seem like a real person. Not every character feels completely three-dimensional, but none of them feel flat, which is important and helps to elevate the novel above mere parody. Although you can also pull that off while still playing with the stereotypes — Joss Whedon did it beautifully with Cabin in the Woods — I think it’s much better that Hendrix didn’t take that route.
As far as horror goes, Horrorstör isn’t likely to keep you up at night jumping at shadows, but it is a page turner that’s pretty hard to put down — I blazed through it in three days, and I wasn’t putting in a particularly large amount of effort — a lot of it I read on lunch breaks at work. Which is either the best or worst time to read a horror story about retail, depending on how easily frightened you are and what your opinion about the genre in general is. At any rate, it’s a quick, easy read, with a lot of humor, especially if you’ve worked retail or know Ikea at least in reputation. Yes, there are a lot of increasingly played out ghost story tropes, but it’s clearly intentional and it works. Thankfully at least one major trope was averted, much to my pleasure, though I can’t say what it was without spoiling anything.
Actually now that I’m thinking about it, two major tropes were averted, one of which never even entered my mind. I’m glad, in retrospect, that it was, though.
Anyway, it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s a fun read, and I know I’m interested in reading more from Hendrix.
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