Losing my Harry Potter virginity #1: The Philosopher's Stone

Grady Hendrix: Horrorstör

“Horrorstör” af Grady Hendrix. Forlaget Quirk Books. Udgivet 2014.

English version below


Bøger har på mange måder et rimelig fast format. Udover coverdesign lægges der ikke umiddelbart op til forskellighed ud over de klassiske rammer. Derfor synes jeg også, det er utrolig spændende, når forfattere begynder at eksperimentere med dette format, og det må man altså sige, at Hendrix her har gjort!

Mine umiddelbare forventninger til Horrorstör konceptet, som jeg her gav udtryk for, blev da bestemt også indfriet i forhold til designet. Jeg har i billederne forsøgt at indfange den yderst gennemførte stil, som altså indeholder alt fra ansættelsesblanketter til et udførligt kort over butikken (som viste sig at være fuldstændig uundværligt, hvis man ellers havde et ønske om at følge historien, efter den indledende, overfladiske entusiasme havde lagt sig). Sider og tekst er arrangeret som i et IKEA-katalog, og kapitlerne navngives med Orsks norske møbeltitler på produkter, som har en relevans for den følgende del af historien. Disse møbeltegninger skal jeg lige hilse og sige bliver mere og mere makabre, som historien skrider frem (der gik efterhånden lige lovlig meget Saw i den til min smag). Men uden tvivl en tommel opad for gennemført koncept!

I Horrorstör følger vi Amy, der arbejder som ”store partner” (hvilket er en perky snydetitel for ganske almindelig servicemedarbejder) hos IKEA knock off-kæden Orsk. Vi hopper ind i hendes hverdag og bliver inviteret med bag facaden og ind til salgsteknikker og interne, smålige stillingshierarkier. Første tredjedel af Horrorstör leverer et satirisk, nærmest tragikomisk perspektiv på den ellers farverige, imødekommende, too-good-to-be-true-servicemindede legoklods af en møbelkæde, vi kender og (jeg) elsker.

”Next to the door was a giant plastic bucket full of Magic Tools. The geniuses in Milwaukee designed their furniture to be incompatible with ordinary household tools; Orsk products could be assembled only with the proprietary Orsk Magic Tool. The small L-shaped wrench was famously easy to lose, so the store gave them away by the bucketful and employees were required to carry one at all times.”

Meget hurtigt lærer vi, at noget dog er helt galt i netop denne Orsk-butik. Sofaer tværes ind i afføring og de tomme, falske hjem i udstillingsafdelingen smadres om natten. Overvågningen viser ingenting, og selvfølgelig er det vores allesammens pessimistiske yndlings-Amy, der, med en samling kolleger, får til opgave at overnatte i showroomet og finde ud af what is up. Og her blev min nysgerrighed først rigtig pirret! For Grady er ganske dygtig til at male en forstyrrende billede af det enorme, forladte, tusmørke showroom floor.

”During the day, Orsk was a building like any other, a sensible container with modern materials to house furniture and people. But after eleven o’clock, when no one roamed its aisles, when its back offices went dark and the last customers were escorted out the front doors, when its entrances were dead-bolted, when its final floor partners went home, it became something else.”

Ret hurtigt bliver man lukket ind i et creepy fun house-ish univers. Falskheden i alting omkring dem er kvælende som et uendeligt dukkehus. Snydeskabsdøre i udstillingerne, som ikke fører nogle steder hen, falske vinduesudsigter bag persiennerne og køkkenrør som ikke er sat til. Da Orsk første gang begynder at fucke med de ansattes psyke og forvandler den strengt tilrettelagte udstillingsrute (the bright path of arrows) i showroomet til en evig labyrint af hallucinationer, var jeg helt oppe under loftet af begejstring. Desværre var det også her, historien toppede for mit vedkommende. Med undtagelse af Basils udtalelse: ”I can’t believe this is happening. There’s a dead man on the Frånjk!”, så går det altså udelukkende ned ad bakke for Horrorstör herfra. Og den bakke er stejl.

Som historien skrider frem, tages der endelig rigtig hul på horrorplottet, og de underholdende, hånlige, indirekte spark i skridtet til IKEA fader støt ud. For gyserelementet består desværre ikke i den creepy ”møbelkæde-after-dark”-basis, som konceptet så oplagt inviterer til. Tværtimod spises læser af med den nok største gyserkliché af en baggrundshistorie, jeg kunne forestille mig. Jamen lur mig om ikke den kun elleve måneder gamle møbelbombe af en bygning er opført direkte ovenpå et nogle hundrede år gammelt, torturbaseret fængsel fyldt af uretfærdigt dømte stakler og én magtsyg fængselsbestyrer, der stadig roamer the Orsk halls? Skrækelementet har sådan set intet med Orsk at gøre, whatsoever, og det er da skide ærgerligt. Moderne, munter retailkæde by night var lige netop det nytænkte koncept, jeg havde glædet mig sådan til, og det synes jeg faktisk Grady lige lader os snuse til for derefter at gøre en brat u-vending ind i plat, mangelfuld ligegyldighed.

Jeg kan som udgangspunkt godt lide idéen med, at Horrorstör i sit design ved første øjekast ærer forbrugerkulturen og skandinaviske møbelkæder med elegante lavprisløsninger, mens teksten som udfylder siderne er en både morsom satire og gysende total-kritik af det samme. Det falder desværre bare til jorden, når det virker til, at Hendrix har lagt flere kræfter i at være anderledes og klar til filmlærredet, end han har i at skrive en sammenhægende gyserfortælling. Og så synes jeg altså, vores store, skrækindjagende hovedmonster er lidt sjusket, når han lader Amy slippe fra ham en tre-fire gange i løbet af natten. I det mindste skal Grady da selv være den første til at lade sin egen karakter pointere denne åbenlyse fail tidligt i forløbet: ”It’s starting to feel like an episode of Scooby-doo.” Ingen anbefaling herfra.

In many ways, books have a reasonably fixed format. Besides cover design there’s not really much room for diversity beyond the classical framework. Therefore I find it incredibly exciting when writers start experimenting with this format, and one must say that that is what Hendrix have done here!

My expectations to the Horrorstör concept, which I expressed here, were surely met in relation to the design. With the pictures I’ve tried to capture the very thorough style, which includes everything from employment forms to a detailed map of the store (which turned out to be completely essential, if one had the desire to actually follow the story, after the initial, superficial enthusiasm had subsided). Pages and text are arranged as in an IKEA catalog, and the chapters are named with Orsk’s Norwegian furniture titles of products that each have relevance for the following part of the story. I should say that these furniture drawings become increasingly macabre, as the story progresses (eventually it got a bit too Saw-like for my taste). But without doubt one thumb up for a well executed concept!

In Horrorstör we follow Amy, who works as a “store partner” (perky cheat title for an ordinary service employee) at the IKEA knock off chain Orsk. We jump into her daily life and are invited behind the scenes and into the sales techniques and internal, petty position hierarchies. The first third of Horrorstör delivers a satirical, almost tragicomic perspective on the otherwise colorful, welcoming, too-good-to-be-true-service minded LEGO brick of a furniture chain that we know and (I) love.

”Next to the door was a giant plastic bucket full of Magic Tools. The geniuses in Milwaukee designed their furniture to be incompatible with ordinary household tools; Orsk products could be assembled only with the proprietary Orsk Magic Tool. The small L-shaped wrench was famously easy to lose, so the store gave them away by the bucketful and employees were required to carry one at all times.”

Very quickly we learn that something is very wrong, however, in this particular Orsk store. Sofas are smeared in stool and the empty, false homes in the showroom department are smashed every night. Surveillance cameras show nothing, and of course it’s our favorite, pessimistic Amy, who, with a couple of colleagues, gets the job of staying in the showroom to find out what is up. And this is where my curiosity was really piqued! For Grady is quite successful in painting a disturbing picture of the huge, abandoned, twilight showroom floor.

”During the day, Orsk was a building like any other, a sensible container with modern materials to house furniture and people. But after eleven o’clock, when no one roamed its aisles, when its back offices went dark and the last customers were escorted out the front doors, when its entrances were dead-bolted, when its final floor partners went home, it became something else.”

Rather fast we are entering a creepy fun house-ish universe. The falsity of everything around them is suffocating as an infinite dollhouse. Fake wardrobe doors that leads nowhere, fake window views behind the blinds and kitchen plumbing that isn’t connected. As Orsk starts fucking with the employees’ minds and transforms the strictly planned showroom route (the bright path of arrows) into a perpetual maze of hallucinations, I was dying of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, this was where the story peaked for me. With the exception of Basil’s utterance: “I can’t believe this is happening. There’s a dead man on the Frånjk!”, it only goes downhill from here for Horrorstör. And the hill is steep.

As the story progresses, the actual horror plot is finally taking off and the entertaining, disdainful, indirect kicks in the crotch to IKEA fade out steadily. Cause the horror element is unfortunately not in the creepy “furniture chain-after-dark” basis, as the concept so obviously invites to. On the contrary the reader is fobbed off with probably the greatest horror cliché of a backstory I can imagine. Turns out the only eleven months old furniture bomb of a building lies directly above a few hundred years old, torture based prison filled with unfairly convicted wretches and one power-hungry prison manager who still roams the halls of Orsk. The horror element has pretty much nothing to do with Orsk, whatsoever, and isn’t that just a shame? Modern, cheerful retail chain by night was just that reinvented concept I had been looking forward to in this book, and I actually think Grady just lets us have a sniff at it and then makes an abrupt U-turn into frivolous, inadequate stupidity.

I generally like the idea that Horrorstör at first glance honors consumer culture and Scandinavian furniture chains with elegant low-cost solutions, while the text that fills the pages is both entertaining satire and terrifying total-criticism of the same. Sadly this just falls to the ground when it seems that Hendrix has put more effort into being different and ready for the movie screen than he has in writing a coherent horror tale. Also I must say that the big, terrifying main monster is a little sloppy when he lets Amy escape him three or four times during the night. At least Grady is the first to have his own character point out this blatant fail early on: “It’s starting to feel like an episode of Scooby-doo.” No recommendation here.

   

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Losing my Harry Potter virginity #1: The Philosopher's Stone