Are you ready for a horror book that looks like an Ikea catalog?

The horror genre, for all its apparent simplicity, often inspires peculiar forms of
experimentation. In recent years, scary books such as
House of Leaves, The Fifty
Year Sword and The Raw Shark Texts have experimented with typography and
layout.  A different breed of horror mash-up
has also arisen, driven by a playful merging
of accepted notions of highbrow and lowbrow
narratives—most notably in the surprise hit
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Other
books and films, from various eras (
Freaks,
The Blair Witch Project, The Amityville Horror),
have achieved cult status with a kind of post-
modern framing, unusual in genre stories, that
deliberately blurs the line between fact and fiction.
With less successful results, the movie
The Devil
Inside i
rritated viewers with an ending that
referred them to a website.  

But until I encountered
Horrorstör, I never knew
that a tale of terror could coexist with helpful hints
on home decorating and furnishing options. Grady
Hendrix must have, deep in his past, some very bad
experiences with do-it-yourself assembly, or perhaps
suffered a painful breakup with an Ikea store clerk. In
Horrorstör, he gets his revenge, constructing a haunted
house novel in which the familiar creepy mansion is replaced by a mega-sized big box
retail outlet.

You can tell by the cover that this isn't your typical horror novel. An attractive living
room layout features the
Kjëerring modular shelving system ($89, see page 78), and
the streamlined
Brooka couch ($299, see page 8). Open the catalog, and the first things
you see are a store map, a home delivery order form, and a list of Orsk policies and
shopping tips.  These are interspersed with stale marketing copy and annoying
company slogans ("If you ever have a question, just Orsk!").

If you were expecting
Lovecraft, you are now staring at loveseats. Instead of "The Pit and
the Pendulum," you can peruse the plinth and patio chair. Forget Mary Shelley, and buy
some merry shelving.

I‘ll admit I was enticed by this odd presentation. Few things are harder to find than a
truly original variant on an old genre story theme. Take your pick: locked room murder
mystery; time travel tale; gunslinger comes to Wild West town; you name it—all of the
genre angles have been worked over so many times that they have lost their freshness,
smelling as stale as the crypt in an Edgar Allan Poe tale. And what could be more
timeworn than stories about hauntings, perhaps the oldest plot of them all. Yet
Hendrix comes up with a new twist on an ancient story.

Alas, once the reader gets beyond the opening illustrations and into the heart of the
text, it
turns into a fairly conventional narrative about slacker millennials in middle
America. Our protagonist Amy has a low level job at the Orsk outlet in Cuyahoga
County, Ohio—one of the 318 "partners" operating a huge superstore. She has a bad
attitude and an even worse rapport with her boss Basil. Her relationship with family
and roommates isn’t much better. She owes rent money, and fears that Basil is planning
to fire her. We follow Amy through the course of her work day, and along the way, we
are introduced to a range of stick figure characters—the loyal checkout counter worker,
the airhead flirt, the hipster employee, the corporate grunt, and the like.

This is a letdown after the come-on of the cover and opening pages. Hendrix is a
lackluster writer, only occasionally enlivening the proceedings with a comic twist or
witty bit of dialogue. The characters are as flat as one of those Ikea boxes with the
make-it-yourself table inside.

The backstory, however, is extravagant. What
Hendrix lacks in writing chops he makes up for
in imagination and bold conceptualization. Orsk,
a massive seller of knock-off minimalist
Scandinavian furniture, has situated a huge store
on the site of an old nineteenth century prison, a
panopticon straight out of the pages of Foucault
and Bentham. At certain places in the store,
pathways exist to an alternative universe in which
the prison still exists, under the supervision of its
demented warden. Most of the time, store
employees and customers can go about their
business, blissfully unaware of the darkness
within, but occasionally—especially late at night—
people move through various pathways that bring
them from the benign normalcy of the shopping
experience to the crazy pathology of an antiquated
penitentiary.

There’s sweet symbolism here. In many ways, we
are imprisoned by our consumer culture. Hendrix
doesn't do much to build on this angle—a more skilled author could have done
something with this implicit message in the book’s premise. But readers can impose
their own metanarrative here about the degradation of mindless consumption. That’s
a horror story that also deserves to be told.

The strange doings at this store can’t evade detection forever. The Orsk outlet in
Cuyahoga County, Ohio has suffered from a series of problems—disappearing
merchandise, acts of vandalism, and mysterious text messages (stating the one word
'help') sent to store employees.  Amy and her colleague Ruth Anne are enlisted by Basil
to stay with him overnight at the Orsk outlet, and try to determine what’s going on.

The novel gains momentum in its second half, as the night goes on, and the Orsk
outbreak gets stranger and stranger. Okay, the dialogue doesn’t improve, and the
characters don’t become any rounder (all the more surprising when you consider that
only six of them dominate the novel—certainly Hendrix could impart a bit more weight
and heft to them). But the plot gets more ingenious as a retail store gradually turns into
a nineteenth century prison.

And whenever Hendrix returns to the format of a
furniture catalog—which he does at the start of each
chapter—he again dazzles. The items for sale change
over the course of the novel, and soon start looking
more like torture chamber accessories, and less
like items to spruce up the guest bedroom. (Well, I
guess that depends on what you think of your guests.)
And Hendrix puts in subtle jokes—like the numbers
666 that appear in the catalog number of every product,
or the hidden meanings in the names of the featured
merchandise.  
Kjëerring, the brand name of the shelving
system, means old woman in Norwegian. A table set is
branded as
Arsle, a Swedish slang word for buttocks.
Drittsekk, the name of a modular seating system, is
Norweigan for wanker. You get the idea. The humor is a
step below Mark Twain's, or maybe even the full two
fathoms, but still I left this book with a notion that
Hendrix was working at multiple levels, and had put
clever twists into the stitching of
Horrorstör most
readers would miss.  

Still, there’s not enough here to convince me to be a
return shopper at his emporium. At the conclusion
of his novel, Hendrix tries to set up the possibility of
a sequel. Hey, I don’t blame him. The Orsk mandate
is brand expansion, and Hendrix is just doing more of the same. But when that new
catalog arrives, I’ll stick it in the neighbor’s mailbox. Maybe they want a new
Kjëerring
or Arsle, and are willing to do their own assembly. For my part, I prefer works that
arrive on my doorstep already finished and polished.  

Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. His latest book is How to Listen to Jazz from
Basic Books.


Publication Date: November 21, 2016
This is my year of horrible reading.
I am reading the classics of horror fiction
during the course of 2016, and each week will
write about a significant work in the genre.
You are invited to join me in my
annus
horribilis
. During the course of the year—if
we survive—we will have tackled zombies,
serial killers, ghosts, demons, vampires, and
monsters of all denominations. Check back
each week for a new title...but remember to
bring along garlic, silver bullets and a
protective amulet.  
Ted Gioia
My Year of Horrible Reading

Week 1:
Dracula
By Bram Stoker

Week 2:
The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Week 3:
Tales of Mystery & Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe

Week 4:
Carrie
By Stephen King

Week 5:
The Passion According to G.H.
By Clarice Lispector

Week 6:
Tales
By H.P. Lovecraft

Week 7:
The Exorcist
By William Peter Blatty

Week 8:
The Woman in Black
By Susan Hill

Week 9:
Nausea
By Jean-Paul Sartre

Week 10:
I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson

Week 11:
Ghost Stories of Henry James
By Henry James

Week 12:
Interview with the Vampire
By Anne Rice

Week 13:
American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis

Week 14:
Last Stories and Other Stories
By William T. Vollmann

Week 15:
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
By M.R. James

Week 16:
Rosemary's Baby
By Ira Levin

Week 17:
The King in Yellow
By Robert W. Chambers

Week 18:
Rebecca
By Daphne Du Maurier

Week 19
The Woman in the Dunes
by Kōbō Abe

Week 20
The Dark Eidolon
by Clark Ashton Smith

Week 21
Off Season
by Jack Ketchum

Week 22
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3
by Clive Barker

Week 23
The Silence of the Lambs
by Thomas Harris

Week 24
The Orange Eats Creeps
by Grace Krilanovich

Week 25
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Week 26
Psycho
by Robert Bloch

Week 27
Fledgling
by Octavia E. Butler

Week 28
Demons by Daylight
by Ramsey Campbell

Week 29
The Complete Short Stories
by Ambrose Bierce

Week 30
Pet Sematary
by Stephen King

Week 31
Our Lady of Darkness
by Fritz Leiber

Week 32
Grendel
by John Gardner

Week 33
White is for Witching
by Helen Oyeyemi

Week 34
The Wasp Factory
by Iain Banks

Week 35
King Kong
by Edgar Wallace

Week 36
The Castle of Otranto
by Horace Walpole

Week 37
The John Silence Stories
by Algernon Blackwood

Week 38
The Magic Toyshop
by Angela Carter

Week 39
The Other
by Thomas Tryon

Week 40
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Week 41
Ghost Story
by Peter Straub

Week 42
John Dies at the End
by David Wong

Week 43
The Great God Pan
by Arthur Machen

Week 44
The Cipher
by Kathe Koja

Week 45
Let the Right One In
by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Week 46
The Nameless
by Ramsey Campbell

Week 47
Horrorstör
by Grady Hendrix
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction

Yes, There's a Horror Novel That
Looks Like an Ikea Catalog

Everyday is Black Friday at Grady Hendrix's Horrorstör
Essay by Ted Gioia
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/tedgioia

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.
Flatland

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian
Hothouse

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

Apuleius
The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.
Crash

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barker, Clive
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Bierce, Ambrose
The Complete Short Stories

Blackwood, Algernon
The Complete John Silence Stories

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis
Ficciones

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.
Moderan

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Butler, Octavia E.
Fledgling

Campbell, Ramsey
Demons by Daylight

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chambers, Robert W.
The King in Yellow

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.
Babel-17

Delany, Samuel R.
Dhalgren

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.
Nova

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.
Ubik

Dick, Philip K.
VALIS

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fowles, John
A Maggot

Fuentes, Carlos
Aura

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil
Neverwhere

Gardner, John
Grendel

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John
Light

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank
Dune

Hill, Susan
The Woman in Black

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Houellebecq, Michel
Submission

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Ishiguro, Kazuo
Never Let Me Go

Jackson, Shirley
The Haunting of Hill House

James, Henry
The Turn of the Screw

James, M.R.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Ketchum, Jack
Off Season

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

King, Stephen
Carrie

King, Stephen
Pet Sematary

Krilanovich, Grace
The Orange Eats Creeps

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Our Lady of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw
Solaris

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Levin, Ira
Rosemary's Baby

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Lovecraft, H.P.
Tales

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
I Am Legend

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni
Beloved

Murakami, Haruki
1Q84

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry
Ringworld

Noon, Jeff
Vurt

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Oyeyemi, Helen
White is for Witching

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Poe, Edgar Allan
Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Pohl, Frederik
Gateway

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Rice, Anne
Interview with the Vampire

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José
Blindness

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert
Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert
Nightwings

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford
City

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Clark Ashton
The Dark Eidolon

Smith, Cordwainer
Norstrilia

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stevenson, Robert Louis
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Stoker, Bram
Dracula

Stross, Charles
Glasshouse

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Tryon, Thomas
The Other

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.
Slan

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
The Dragon Masters

Vance, Jack
Emphyrio

Vance, Jack
The Languages of Pao

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vollmann, William T
Last Stories and Other Stories

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt
Slaughterhouse-Five

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Wallace, Edgar
King Kong

Walpole, Horace
The Castle of Otranto

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim
Cloudstreet

Woolf, Virginia
Orlando

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal


Special Features

Notes on Conceptual Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
The Most Secretive Sci-Fi Author
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List



Links to related sites

The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter

_____


SF Site
io9
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Millions
Big Dumb Object
SF Novelists
More Words, Deeper Hole
The Misread City
Reviews and Responses
SF Signal
True Science Fiction
Tor blog


Disclosure:  Conceptual Fiction
and its sister sites may receive review
copies and promotional materials
from publishers, authors,  publicists
or other parties.

All rights reserved.
To purchase, click on image
"The items for sale
change over the course
of the novel, and soon
start looking more like
torture chamber
accessories, and less
like items to spruce
up the guest bedroom."
Jeremy Bentham's model of the
Panopticon, his ideal prison—and
perhaps the forerunner of the
modern big box retail outlet.