Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I knew retail was hell, but this is ridiculous

I wasn't expecting Grady Hendrix's Horrorstör to be quite as fast of a read as it was, but here I am posting about it a few days after starting it.

We start with Amy, who works in the Home Office section of the Cuyahoga County (That's Cleveland for all you non-Ohio folks) Orsk store. What is Orsk? I'm so glad you asked! It's basically IKEA, only American owned, and therefore even cheaper! (Seriously, there's much in the way of discussion on the psychology of the setup of the store, it's basically IKEA without the horse meat meatballs.) Amy had transferred over from the Youngstown Orsk prior to the start of this, and wants to transfer back, given how unhappy she is at at Cuyahoga County Orsk. Much of this is due to her dislike of Basil, the Deputy Manager. Basil is the one who's swallowed the Kool Aid, quoting from the founder's book, following the policies to the letter of the law, and generally being what amounts to a Paladin in the service of Orsk.

Amy is also drowning in student loan debt, having been forced to drop out due to her mother's remarriage screwing up her benefit package. She's behind on rent, and scared of moving back in with her mother.

When we first meet Basil, he indeed chews out Amy for having her phone out on the floor. That it had gone off with one of the mysterious texts that employees keep getting while in the store (Unknown number, and the text reads "help".) And then Amy gets summoned for a closed door meeting with Basil, which she assumes is to fire her. She's greeted by Ruth Ann, the cashier whom everyone in the store loves for her friendly demeanor. Both think they're getting fired, but it turns out Basil wants them both to join him for a special project. It seems that some of the stranger occurrences around the store (poop stained couches, damaged merchandise, etc.) are suspected to be vandalism happening after close. Since Orsk doesn't employ an overnight staff, Basil wants Amy and Ruth Ann to join him that evening for a double overtime, paid in cash shift to see if they can't figure out what's going on, prior to a visit from corporate. During the meeting, we find out that Amy failed her assessment for promotion, which Basil, who as much as he may not like Amy, wants her to retake the test, since he feels she's management material. He also bribes her with approving her transfer back to Youngstown.

Fast forward, and the three are locked in to Orsk overnight, although Amy keeps visiting the bathroom out of nerves and a desire to get away from Basil. She notices some new graffiti on the walls when she's in there. Graffiti that seems to expand upon each visit. When Basil goes off on his own to patrol, Ruth Ann and Amy decide to go together rather than be alone in the creepy store. They run into employees Trinity and Matt, who gummed up the Employee entrance to do a ghost hunt in the store. The entire proposal they have is comedy gold and lends some levity into later events. Basil, who's having a conniption fit about the two extras, gets even more annoyed when they find Carl, a homeless guy, has been living in the store at night. Carl claims he hasn't been behind the vandalism, since he's much more interested in having a happy sort of home. Mind you, they also find out the graffiti is now covering the entire women's bathroom in notes about years served and talking about the Beehive.

Somewhere in here, we find out Cuyahoga County Orsk is built on a swamp that used to be The Cuyahoga Panopticon run by Warden Josiah Worth, who basically ran it like an asylum. When Basil goes off to wait for the cops that Amy called that Basil wants to cancel, Trinity decides holding a seance is EXACTLY the kind of footage her new Ghost Hunting show needs. To add to the really poor decision making, Matt convinces everyone to handcuff themselves together in the circle. And well, given the nature of the narrative, let's just say the seance works better than expected.

The rest of the book is basically standard haunted house boilerplate, what with fake doors in the shop opening onto new/old worlds, everyone getting split up and tortured at various points, teh sales display floor randomly rearranging itself.....

While the ending leaves a bit to be desired, the book, despite its decided lack of originality, is a fun and amusing read. The actual physical book is presented as an Orsk catalog, with each chapter named after a variety of furniture available in Orsk. Or sort of. Post seance, the pictures and descriptions change a bit, as we learn Norwegian terms for torture devices. It's a bit like the original Silent Hill game on PlayStation, when you cross from the abandoned town into...someplace else.

Honestly, I went into this expecting something along the lines of Ramsey Campbell's The Overnight. What I got was a derivative hodgepodge that works almost in spite of itself. Well worth checking out.