"Just Orsk us!" says the beehive worker
Since earlier this year, I have enjoyed and consumed a strange quantity of downloaded horror game walkthroughs from YouTube vidders who post their gameplays online for the general masses of people who can't afford or have the time and commitment to play such games, but are nonetheless interested enough to submerge themselves in another person's virtual world that are mostly filled with deaths, macabre and creepy backstories. I've enjoyed gameplays for Alice: Madness Returns, two Outlast games, five Silent Hill games, Among the Sleep, Slender Man the Arrival, and other delightful array of indie horror games. The reason I bring this up in a book review is because Grady Hendrix's novel HORRORSTOR is amusingly reminiscent of this type of games in the most disturbing way imaginable in prose form and that is why reading its content was hypnotic and spooky in a very visceral level.
This is the most appealing aspect about Horrorstor for me: Hendrix's precise and lush prose was able to create and sustain the atmospheric horrors that such survivalist games aforementioned are initially built on--then magnify that effect and turn it on its head as the story progresses. Everything about this book is a visual assault to the senses in narrative form which produces some of the creepiest and most memorable situations in a reader's imagination as he or she browses not only through the plot's events but alongside the accompaniment illustrations of a variety of Orsk furniture which are gradually transformed into a catalogue of torture devices as soon as the characters find themselves exploring the darker dungeons of the seemingly harmless retail store.
Just like any good premise for a survival horror game, Horrorstor introduces us with easily relatable characters as its core players; the typically apathetic twenty-something Amy who never gets too involved with people, let alone commit to her job at hand or make any kind of definitive long-term plans; Matt and Trinity, a pair of adventurous slackers with loftier ambitions who want to capture ghost phenomena on tape, believing it's their ticket out of small-town obscurity; the decisively responsible yet traditional Basil who takes his job way too seriously, almost in a religious way; and the kind and sympathetic friend-to-all Ruth Anne whose unwavering concern and devotion to her job and co-workers was the singular most heroic quality that actually endangered her in the end.
Next, we are sampled with the workings of a well-constructed setting where all the terrors and nightmarish encounters will revolve later on: the Orsk retail building with floors containing different ensemble of furniture choices and other interior-design selections. As the night deepens, this location will slowly but surely fuck with their minds as they find themselves navigating through a chaotic labyrinth that seems to stop them from leaving at any cost. Not only is the author's prose and story engaging, but the visual design of the book itself allows readers to feel as if they are a part of the world (each chapter break contains a full-page illustration of a furniture plus a descriptive sales caption, until the next ones devolve into torture devices).
Much like a scary video game, Horrostor relies on the overall visual layout to heighten the spookiness value of its story and to drive home that nagging sense of dread and anxiety as we keep exploring its corridors in spite of our better judgment. However, unlike a video game, this is still a novel so it has to be consumed through reading, and Hendrix does a fabulous job making readers like me care and invest emotionally on the safety of its characters, much like any good work of fiction has to do. This book was compelling, hard-edged and at times very disconcerting indeed so you better have a strong stomach and a slight smidge of masochism to get through some descriptions.
I would also suggest that you buy this as a hard copy rather than read this in a device because holding a tangible one in your hands as you turn the pages will make the reading experience even more uncomfortably real as it was intended by its author. You will also be able to look through some of the finer details in the layout that you might miss if you browse this in an eBook reader.
This was a brilliant piece of narrative that will appeal to you well enough if you enjoy a good scare every now and then. The novel also has an ending that is begging for a sequel. I read somewhere that this might get a cinematic adaptation soon, and I have no doubt in my mind that it's definitely fit for visual enjoyment on screen. Hell, they should make a video game for this. I'm not going to be able to play it myself but I will most definitely watch the gameplays in YouTube!