True Corporate Hell

Author: Grady Hendrix

Amy hates her job. The bright, fake cheerfulness of her Ikea-like furniture store job; the joy-through-retail lie; and the almost cultish company spiels she’s required to recite to mystified customers and new hires throughout the day. But she needs the money, and she needs to stay under her boss’ radar until she gets her transfer.

All that is about to change, however, when Basil, the ardent, buy-the-company-line boss picks Amy and one of her coworkers to help him monitor the store at night and find out who is damaging all the stock. Everyone else was unavailable, so it’s Amy (the store’s worst employee) and the store’s best employee alone with Basil, making the rounds of a darkened store, looking for the prep before the delegation of company representatives comes to town the next day. Little do they know that another two coworkers have snuck in with special cameras, convinced that the nighttime damage is not done by the living. Together, the five are about to experience corporate hell at a whole new level.

I loved the idea of Horrorstör, especially after having just read two Hendrix books that made me into a fan of his quirky horror (The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires and How to Sell a Haunted House.) In this Ikea-like, Scandinavian paradise, the kitsch is cranked up, and the readers lay back to anticipate something that will morph from funny to horrifying and back again, true Hendrix style. This time, however, this offbeat offering is just that – offbeat.

The only character here with any real development is Amy, and she’s just ok. We can somewhat sympathize with her down-and-out condition and her job hatred – it is the American way. But she is nothing special, and her transformation from reluctant employee to heroine is not smooth, nor earned. It’s very, very scripted, and not particularly emotive. And the other characters – well, they’re just there as future ghost bait.

We spend a lot of time on the store set-up, the crack-pot naming convention, and the truth behind the wares. It’s an absurd amount of set-up, honestly, and not as atmospheric as it would like to be. The problem with these generic stores is just that – their generic nature. Don’t get me wrong, Bentley Little has proved that the most horrifying things are often the most regular, daily, in-your-face moments of average life, but here the atmosphere just isn’t making us believe it. It’s bland.

Original image by beauty_of_nature from Pixabay; filters added by yours truly.

And then, suddenly, after all the sitting around, after the lifeless character arguments, the tepid descriptions of popoid furniture, the horror gets cranked up, going from 0 to 60 in a few pages. It’s a brutal transition, and not one that makes a ton of sense.

We have something here that is not quite ghosts, not quite zombies, stuck in an eternal torment (a literal hell) that they keep trying to pull the hapless Orsk (Orsk is the name of this Ikea knock-off) employees into. The explanation for the why is a very weak one. It could have worked, honesty, had the build-up been more thoughtful, the explanation less straight forward and unbelievable. The time and attention spent on laying out the store – which just bored us and made the novel slow – should have been put into this hellscape and the history behind it.

In the end, we go from a failed paranoia buildup to an out and out action novel, with endless scenes of running through darkened, flooded store isles and encountering armoires and other normal furniture turned perilous. It’s just as enervating as the slow build up, and because we don’t believe in the monsters, because they are literarily left field, it all feels too engineered.

In the end, the book had a premise, but it ultimately failed. Too much time was spent aimlessly trying to find a plot, just to drop a vast host of angry ghosts with a thirty-second backstory into the mix. It didn’t work. The book alternately tried too hard and not hard enough, leaving readers tepid and glad for an ending.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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