The Stephen King Project – Roadwork (1981)
About the project
I will be reading all of Stephen King’s books in order of publication (with the exception of The Dark Tower series which I will read together, at the end of this adventure) and writing a review of each. I’ll be looking at the recurring themes, the tricks he likes to use, the way he develops character and the way that his craft has evolved in the 44 years since Carrie was first published.
Roadwork is the second Bachman book that I’ve read as part of this series and one of the King books that I have not read before – or at least, not that I can remember. Which puzzles me, because I know that I used to have a copy of The Bachman Books collection, which Roadwork was included in. Anyway, whether I’ve read it and forgotten it, or never got around to reading it, this felt like the first time.
Roadwork is the story of George Bart Dawes, a middle-aged man who is seeing everything he has held dear during his life being subsumed by the construction of a new road. The highway spur will go right through the street on which George lives, as well as the industrial laundry where he has worked for most of his adult life. George is either unable or unwilling to give up these places, and without any conscious thought, he lets his life slip down a path that will see him lose everything.
I have really mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it’s a King, so you know it’s well-written and compelling. You can’t bring yourself to put it down and become an unwilling witness to Dawes’ downfall. On the other hand, a lot of me just wanted to grab Dawes and shake him. To tell him to stop feeling so sorry for himself, that life is hard for us all, but we’ve just got to keep going.
We discover during the course of the book that George’s son died at the age of three from cancer, a slow and painful death. One of the reasons that Dawes can’t let go of his house is that he feels it’s a final link to his son and that brought some sympathy for the man.
The story is bleak and relentless, dragging you along as the little guy takes on the system and loses. The ending is visible from the outset and feels inevitable as the book progresses.
One of the most interesting parts of the book, for me, was the character Drake, an ex-priest who now works with those in need and has a badly burned hand. There are clear echoes of Father Callahan here, the priest who first appeared in ‘Salem’s Lot and went on to be an important character in the Dark Tower series. Even in this book, written under another name, the Dark Tower casts its shadow.
Roadwork is a good read but it’s also angry and depressing and unforgiving. Have you read it? Why not let me know what you think in the comments?
The next book on this read-through is Danse Macabre and I’m very much looking forward to it. This is a non-fiction book, where King looks over the whole horror genre – books, TV, movies, everything – and gives his opinions on how horror stories work and why. I read this when I was in my teens and remember thinking that he loved so many things that I loved. I felt a connection with my hero then that was profoundly moving. I’m interested to see if that has changed over the years.