Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Horrorstor, by Grady Hendrix

This week I'm actually reaching back a bit and talking about an audiobook I listened to quite a while ago in October, Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix. As regular readers are probably aware, horror is not my usual bailiwick but the concept as described in the blurb was intriguing enough for me to want to give it a chance. The edition I listened to was narrated by Tai Sammons and Bronson Pinchot.

The Plot of Horrorstor is set in an Orsk store on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio. Orsk is a big box retail assemble-it-yourself furniture store and deliberate American knock-off of Swedish immigrant Ikea, from the labyrinth of its store showroom to the cafeteria with its meatballs to the phony pseudo-Swedish names given to every piece of furniture. However the Cleveland Orsk store has lately been suffering a rash of vandalism, made all the more curious because it seems to be happening during the night and the security cameras have been unable to provide any useful information about who, or what, might be causing the damage. As a last resort, Basil, one of the store managers, recruits Amy and Ruth-Anne, two of the staff members, to stay with him in the store through the night to see if they can catch the perpetrators before corporate is forced to step in. However the night ends up not being quite what they expected in the least.

A lot of Horrorstor's humor comes from Hendrix's ruthless satirizing of corporate culture and the experience of working retail in specific, something I'm sure almost anyone can sympathize with and understand. Bronson Pinchot reads a variety of inserts included within the story, such as official Orsk literature and memos, and every chapter is started with an advertisement for a piece of Orsk furniture, complete with a narmy description of how this piece of Orsk furniture will fit into your lifestyle. Pinchot does an excellent job of capturing the mild, bland, inoffensive, and absolutely stupidity behind Orsk (and most other) company culture with his tone of voice and some of the inserts are downright hilarious. I can only think that this may have been made better in the paperback edition which is described as similar to a glossy furniture catalog in its design. Alas, this was something I was deprived of with the audio version.

Tai Sammons does most of the heavy lifting, so to speak, by following our protagonist of Amy as she tries to survive the soul-crushing monotony of Orsk. And while I can understand and sympathize with Amy's frustration, having worked in retail myself, Amy isn't exactly the best protagonist. As it's pointed out in the book she's kind of shiftless, gives up when things get too hard, and doesn't follow through on things despite wanting to escape from the trap of working retail. It may just be because it falls too close to my own personal experiences, but I feel like Amy brings most of her problems onto herself and looks to blame other people for them rather than taking responsibility. The result is I end up with very little sympathy for Amy as a character. Fortunately she does go through some development, but it's kind of a long time coming in the book.

I will also say I don't know if I really like the pacing of the book terribly much. It's very reasonable to guess from the title and the genre that something creepy is going down. It's why you picked the book up after all, anyway. For the first half, though, things in the book seemed fairly mundane. A little odd perhaps, but not necessarily creepy. Once you get to the second half, things go from zero to straight up terrifying in a matter of minutes and I felt kind of like I was scrambling to catch up. There's also sort of the drawback of knowing exactly what the danger is, which makes it far less scary than knowing there's something dangerous out there but not knowing what exactly it is. I felt like the book could have benefitted greatly from a little better pacing and working to weave the creepiness throughout, in addition to the theme of soul-crushing monotony.

The other thing I noticed was that the book ended rather abruptly and on a cliff hanger, which felt vaguely unsatisfying. Granted, there was the much-needed character development, but we're left with a bit, "what happens next question?" This is of course a means of ending books which has been done before, Heinlein being an example of an author who enjoyed doing this, but at the same time it could also be a setup for a sequel. In either case I was kind of disappointed because in the case of the former, this being the final word and us being left to imagine further adventures, the conflict within the book isn't really resolved, just delayed until its inevitable return. In the case of the latter, I'm not sure if I really care quite enough about the characters, in spite of their development to sit through a sequel. Or for that matter if there's really enough material still there to flesh it out into a full book on its own. So given those two options, it feels like an unsatisfying conclusion.

I am of course aware that I'm not exactly an aficionado of the horror genre so don't have a lot of experience and this may be perfectly normal for the book. In fact my opinions on what makes a good horror novel may be entirely at odds with what everyone else thinks makes a good horror novel. But in my opinion, at least, this book had some serious issues and left me feeling rather unsatisfied. It wasn't throw-against-the wall bad, but I didn't think it was terribly good either.


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