For this month’s book club, I read Tales from the Gas Station: Volume One by Jack Townsend. The fun thing about this book is that it was initially a collection of short stories posted to the internet. These short horror stories, dubbed “creepy pasta,” were spread around and gained enough popularity to be compiled and formally published. The first volume even nods to the origin story by including this history, though it is a bit removed from the main plot.
For Fans of Welcome to Night Vale & The Kirlian Frequency
First off, I will say this was a really entertaining book to read. Each chapter felt like its own contained story (probably because they were originally written that way). They also linked together effortlessly to create a much bigger picture, though. It reminded me of works like Welcome to Night Vale and The Kirlian Frequency. If books aren’t your thing, you’ll want to check out one or both.
All three of these works are about towns where a lot of paranormal activity takes place and are narrated by detached men who report on the goings on of the town. There is enough difference between them, though, that you won’t get bored of the same thing even if you read/ listen to/ watch all of them.
Seriously, if you haven’t listened to “Welcome to Night Vale,” I highly recommend it. It’s a podcast that is like a more serious version of Tales from the Gas Station, except you won’t have to wonder if the events that transpire are real or not. Those are all very real (at least within the context of the overall story).
If podcasts aren’t your thing, The Kirlian Frequency is a show you can watch for a quick binge. It doesn’t have as much content but is the only one of the three to have a visual medium.
Honestly, Welcome to Night Vale and The Kirlian Frequency are even a bit creepier than Tales from the Gas Station. It could be how the narrators deliver everything as if they’re removed from the story rather than living it the way Jack is. Or maybe it’s because the horror can take a while to seep in. Either way, it works from some good bone-chilling fun.
Now that I’ve talked about other works let’s get into the actual specifics of Tales from the Gas Station.
Not the Most Reliable Narrator
I often try to analyze the stories I read critically, at least in terms of the relationships between characters. It’s a little hard to do that when there’s so much crazy stuff going on. I could spend days picking apart even one of the many bizarre events that occur.
A whole other level of weirdness is added when the story gets meta. I mean, a collection of short stories gets passed around the internet, gains viral fame, and is all written by a guy named Jack? Anyway, it would take way too long to analyze all of that. This is why, for Book Club, I’ll just focus on Jack himself.
As you progress through the story, it becomes increasingly obvious that Jack is not the most reliable narrator. While he does state everything pretty matter-of-factly, Jack’s illness plays tricks on his mind, so it’s hard to tell fact from fiction.
This means we’re left guessing whether the events Jack is talking about are really happening or if they are just figments of his imagination. There is no way to tell whether or not everything is a conspiracy or if Jack’s brain is just hallucinating as it struggles to continue functioning on zero sleep.
Which, to me, is part of the draw of Tales from the Gas Station. You’re always on your toes, wondering which fantastical event is actually happening.
Jack’s blasé attitude about it all is also pretty entertaining too. I, for one, would be freaking out if I worked in the epicenter of all things weird and paranormal. Jack is mostly bothered by the occasional robbery that takes place.
Loads of Questions Left Unanswered
As the title “Volume One” suggests, the series has multiple books. Volume Four is the latest installment and was published in 2022. This means many of the many unanswered questions from Volume One may be answered in later works.
My biggest question has been, “How much of this is real?” Dr. V pretty much tells Jack that he’s crazy and that none of it is real. On the other hand, Antonio implies a huge conspiracy at play, which would suggest that most of it is real. It’s hard to tell because even if Antonio was telling the truth, we know that Jack’s mind plays tricks on him.
The conversations he has with himself over dead cell phones, for one, means at least some of it is just in his mind.
Putting aside the question of how much of the events Jack experiences are real, there are many other questions, too. What was the hole for? Will more people come after Jack to eliminate him? Did the Dark God die? What is the real reason Jack can’t sleep? And who is the mysterious woman Jack refuses to talk about? Hopefully, all will be revealed in the subsequent volumes.
4 out of 5 hand plants.
This was a really good read. It was fun to just be immersed in the story of a guy trying to do his job and ignore all the weird sh*t happening around him. Even if we’re not all dealing with crazy cultists, many of us can relate, especially if you’ve ever worked in customer service.
Was it a literary masterpiece? No, but as long as you don’t start reading it with that expectation, you will have a good time.
For more book recommendations, check out our last book club read! If you’ve got any suggestions for what we should read next, drop them in the comments below.