It’s been said that Stephen King can draw inspiration from nearly any topic. After reading this book, I’d say that statement certainly has some credibility. In the most basic of summaries, Roadwork is a novel about the horrors of eminent domain. Of course, in reality, there’s much more to it than that. Like several of the King books I’ve discussed on this blog before, Roadwork was written under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. To me, it seems that books written under the Bachman name are more inclined to break away from the cookie-cutter “horror” subject matter that King is best known for. Bachman books seem a bit like a secret playground in which Stephen King is able to put forth some of his more mundane ideas.
Roadwork focuses on the story of a man named Barton Dawes. Three years prior to the start of the book, Dawes lost his son to cancer. Ever since the death of his boy, Dawes’ relationship with his wife has slowly began to deteriorate. Dawes seemingly throws himself into his work as manager of a local laundry service in order to distract himself from his troubles. However, this distraction is threatened when the local government announces a highway expansion that will run through both Dawes’ home and business. Despite the looming deadline, Dawes refuses look for both a new home and business property. As a result of his refusal to accept reality, Dawes slowly begins to alienate himself from his loved ones and even from society itself. The novel chronicles the day-to-day life of Barton Dawes as he continues his downward spiral into insanity.
Compared to many of Stephen King’s books from the same era, Roadwork is a very casual read. It’s short and it is very character focused. There’s not a whole lot of depth to the story itself, it’s quite straightforward. But at the same time, it’s very thought provoking. I’ve read this novel a number of times over the years and I always find myself sympathizing with the character of Barton Dawes. Here’s a guy who had a very bad turn of luck. He’s doing his best to try to hold everything together for the sake of his wife. But it seems that at every turn there’s something else pushing him to the ledge. Finally, the time comes when he can either give up and accept his fate (with no real reward), or he can push back and go out in a blaze of glory. Whenever I read this book, I can’t help but wonder what I might do if faced with the same situation. It’s these sort of mental questions that King’s books are known for. It’s also one of the reasons I keep going back to his writings over and over again.
For many readers, this probably isn’t going to be the type of novel they’d expect from Stephen King. But for those of you with an open mind, I’d urge you to give this one a try. It’s a period piece, to be sure. But it gets in your head and makes you think. And if you ask me, that’s the sign of a really good book.
Story: Gritty and real. Focused in the late seventies, this novel might be a bit hard for younger readers to relate to. But it’s still very thought provoking and very well paced.
Recommended: True crime fans, and middle-aged readers (especially men).