I think it's safe to say that Roadwork is King's least-read novel, largely because it represented an attempt on King's part to go straight, to prove he could write a mainstream novel. Written in between 'Salem's Lot and The Shining, Roadwork was released in 1981 as Richard Bachman's third novel. I first read it as a young teenager, and I no longer remembered a great deal about it - except that, at the time, I did find it somewhat boring. King himself has never gone so far as to call Roadwork a good novel. Reading it again now, though, I was surprised by the sophistication and emotional power of the story. You almost have to have experienced some of the pressures of adulthood to really relate to the protagonist, Barton George Dawes, and it really doesn't matter that the story is imbedded in the socioeconomic worries of the early 1970s. In its essence, Roadwork is the story of a man pushed beyond his means of coping with change.
On the face of things, Dawes doesn't have it that bad. He has a good wife, a good job, and friends. Inside, though, he is suffering miserably - and has been since his little boy died of a brain tumor three years earlier. Having never allowed himself to grieve properly, his mind proves unable to bear the disruptions caused by a new local road construction project. He's worked for the same laundry since he got out of school, and it will have to relocate elsewhere because of the roadwork - and he is the one responsible for finding a new site. He's lived in the same house since he got married, and it too has a fateful date with a wrecking ball - and he has to find a new home for him and his wife. It's just too much for him, and he can't do it. He lets the deal fall through on the new laundry site, which costs him his job, and he doesn't even go looking for a new house. Haunted by dreams of his dead son, he's already a broken man - even before he loses his wife and basically his whole life.
We the readers basically watch Bart Dawes go insane as the days pass. We watch him lie to his wife and to himself, drink himself into nightly stupors, procure destructive objects from dangerous men, and plot revenge on those who have taken away the few things in life he could cling to. At the center of his problem is Charlie; George can't understand why his son had to die, and he can't bear the thought of his home, Charlie's home, being destroyed. The plot is somewhat analogous to that of the film Falling Down. Even as we watch Dawes do some terrible things, we can't help but sympathize with a man so beaten down by the cruel vagaries of life.
King has said that Roadwork was in some ways a product of the death of his mother. After working hard to raise King and his brother single-handedly, she died just as King's material success as a writer was beginning. The book served as a vehicle to let him work through his own emotional issues over his loss. Why does a loved one have to die? That question permeates this novel. It's a very personal story, but it is one almost any adult reader can relate to very well. King fans who have passed this novel by would do well to go back and give it a chance - it's much different from King's other novels, but it is a surprisingly impressive exploration of emotional disintegration.
on August 6, 2001
There are really two classes of King readers. The first are the early-career lovers. These are people who like suspense (though I have yet to learn how you get that from a forum where the subject controls the pace) and raw plot motion, and there's nothing wrong with that, but it's definitely not a very rich or complete approach to take. The second group are the late-career fans of work like Hearts in Atlantis and Desperation, who generally give a more deep and introspective read to the work and aren't as concerned with things moving along at a brisk clip. For those who may be wondering, I am probably best classified as one of the latter.
The first group will hate this novel. Rather than being a continuously moving story about a collection of things happening to people, Roadwork is essentially an examination of the destruction of one man. And let me tell you, that character examination is SUBLIME. The only character that I have read in a King work who was clearly better defined was Johnny Smith from The Dead Zone, and this book would best be compared to that earlier work.
There is very little to be bored with in this book if you're not worried about things always happening. If you are, you might be better advised to move on and leave this one alone--there aren't a lot of bodies or explosions. The atmosphere and characterization, however, are superb. I read this as part of the Bachman Books, which have regrettably been taken off the market as a set, and I was impressed by the depth and expression that King managed in this side-project (not reflected in his other work under the pseudonym).
There are problems with this book, though. For one thing, it is absolutely mired in the seventies. Younger readers may get lost trying to relate to such a thing as an oil embargo. To some extent, that intrinsic association holds back the novel by keeping the contemporary reader from truly getting a feel for the environment, but it didn't hurt me too much (and I was born after the whole embargo thing was resolved).
I find nothing more refreshing than seeing an author liberating himself from a genre where he had previously been caged up, and King does that in this book. Instead of incorporating elements of fantasy, as he is so often wont to do, he stuck with reality in this story, and it pays off. You can see the faces of some characters you encounter further down the line, as well, particularly in the mobster (who later became a character in Thinner, after a name change and some tweaking, I imagine). This is a masterpiece of TRUE Stephen King writing, and I don't miss the usual fantastic elements at all. I'd recommend this for anybody looking for a good read.
on December 20, 2002
Roadwork starts off suspensefully, as a crazed man with a knack for carrying on conversations with himself buys a high-caliber rifle and a .44 Magnum revolver. However, the explosive result of this purchase, which you might expect to be soon coming, doesn't arrive until the very end of the book. To get there, we must wade through some very dense, overly-detailed (but very well written) exposition.
Bart Dawes has finally been pushed too far; at age 40, he's lost his only son to a brain tumor, and now the public works commission has decided to build a new highway system, which will not only go through (and thereby erase) the building Bart's worked in for the past twenty years, but also his home. Bart must move, but he refuses to. In the process, Bart will lose his job, his friends, his wife, and his sanity, but he stands strong in his refusal to leave his home, reminiscent in a way of Hank Stamper in Ken Kesey's "Sometimes a Great Notion."
Roadwork is different than anything Stephen King (well, Richard Bachman, to be precise) has written; it's more a character study than anything else. As King himself wrote in his "Why I Was Bachman" introduction to the first edition of The Bachman Books, "Roadwork is probably the worst of the lot, because it tries so hard to be good." And that's the whole of it: Roadwork reads like it's been written by a young writer who's trying hard to appeal to the literary crowd. It's verbose, packed with introspection, and moves along at a snail's pace; the total opposite of the Bachman/King extravaganza The Running Man.
It's no surprise that King relates that Roadwork was written at a time when he was trying to impress those elitists whom would ask him at cocktail parties if he'd ever write "something important." (Interestingly, in the second edition of the Bachman Books, in a foreword titled "The Importance of Being Bachman," King states that Roadwork is now his favorite of the Bachman bunch.)
This is not to say Roadwork is a bad book, or even a boring book. It takes dedication to keep turning those pages when you begin reading it, but in time you adjust to the casual pace of the narrative, you begin to learn (and respect) who Bart Dawes is, and you root for him, no matter how nuts he's become.
The ending finally picks up the pace, as Dawes accepts his fate and brings those guns into play, as well as a generous supply of explosives. In that regard, Roadwork packs the suspenseful punch you'd normally associate with the books under Richard Bachman's name. But with its slow pace, grim view on the world (the Bachman view is generally that life sucks, and terrible things happen for no reason), combined with its firm rooting in the 1970s (which might make it inaccessible to those who weren't around in that decade), Roadwork might not appeal to the average King/Bachman fan. However, for those looking for an intense character study that slowly builds to an explosive climax, it comes recommended.
on March 31, 2003
I have read several Stephen King books, and I have become very fond of his work. Roadwork is written by King's alternate personality, Richard Bachman. This is the first book that I've read when King is writing as Bachman, and I'm niether impressed nor disappointed. "Roadwork" is about one man's struggle with life. He's broke, falling out of love, and miserable. When he finds out he has to move due to the construction of a highway, he gets...well...pissed off. This is a novel about retribution, and a vindictive middle aged man. It's very non-King, perhaps this is because he was writing as Richard Bachman. The book interested me, because it was one man, planning one act of revenge. It's definitely one of the more intriguing plots I've seen, but it was a little too shallow.
on June 6, 2006
how much can one person take?Especially one with an attitude that can lead to the unthinkable?...
Here is a detailed review:The story takes place in an unnamed New England city in the 1970's. Barton George Dawes, grieving over the death of his son and the disintegration of his marriage, is driven off the deep end when he finds that both his home and his business are going to be condemned to make way for the construction of a new interstate highway.
In the introduction to the novel in the collection The Bachman Books King states his disappointment with the work and that a lot of the novel's seemingly melodramatic touches were attempts by him to come to terms with his own mother's death around the time of writing. King states that he was in two minds about reprinting it but decided to in the end in order to give readers an insight into his personality at the time.
Oddly enough, in the introduction to the second edition of The Bachman Books (entitled "The Importance of Being Bachman") King referred to Roadwork as his favorite among the Bachman books.
In the introduction to the first collected works The Backman Books, King states in his essay "Why I Was Bachman", "I think it was an effort to make some sense of my mother's painful death the year before - a lingering cancer had taken her off inch by painful inch. Following this death I was left both grieving and shaken by the apparent senselessness of it all... Roadwork tries so hard to be good and find some answers to the conundrum of human pain...enjoy..Nigel
Written under his alter-ego of Richard Bachman, ROADWORK was King's first attempt at writing a typical mainstream novel (without the supernatural). The book takes place in the early -1970s and chronicles the last days of Barton George Dawes. Dawes is an Average Joe. He started working at a local laundry company right out of high school and has been there for over twenty years. He has a beautiful wife and a nice home in the town he grew up in. He has a lot of friends who care for him--people he grew up with, went to school with, have worked with, and went to church with. They're a close-knit community.
On the surface everything seems fine. But under the surface, there's a storm brewing. It started three years earlier when Barton's only son, Charlie, died because of a brain tumor. That shook up Dawes bad. A couple years later even more bad news came: a new highway extension is coming through town right where Dawes has lived his life. His house is set to be demolished as is the laundry business where he works. His home; everything he has spent his entire life working for and building is scheduled to come crashing down by a wrecking ball. Barton George Dawes has set on the sidelines long enough and isn't going to take it. Some people think he's gone crazy and maybe he has. Whatever the case, Dawes doesn't intend to give up his home without a fight and without trying to get even.
King has said that ROADWORK was a novel that he wrote as a way to deal with the death of his mother who died just as King was beginning to receive financial success as a writer. The story is a bit crude (in writing, not language) and begins rather slow (except for the introduction). Nevertheless, the book has a lot of emotional appeal and does a decent job of illustrating some of the pressures faced and forced upon an adult living in our post-modern consumer society. Also, the catalyst for Dawes last stand is the destruction of his home because of eminent domain. Eminent domain was an issue that was big in the 1970s, but faded away for awhile. However, eminent domain is becoming a huge issue again as communities, supported by a Supreme Court decision in 2005, attempt to rip people's homes and small businesses away to make way for parking lots, super-sized businesses and corporations, and aesthetic purposes.
Overall, even though ROADWORK is a much different work than fans of King might be used to reading, it is a very personal and emotional, yet relatable novel that is well worth reading.
on October 12, 2009
As i've said before, king's earliest are his best. This just so happens to be a richard bachman novel which in some ways is even better then a king novel because with bachman we know where getting a book thats going to jam itself down our throats and roadwork is no exception. To much has already been said and spoiled as i can see so i'll just say that this is grade "A" KING and should not be missed. I was skeptical myself but once again found myself drawn in inescapably. Don't worry about wasting your money, roadwork is worth every bit of your time.
on March 9, 2006
This novel is slow, but it kind of reminded me of Catcher In The Rye, and I think that's because of the depressed mood the character happens to be in throughout the entire novel. It's actually quite interesting how Stephen King was able to come up with this novel.
The novel is about a man who loses his job, his wife, and ends up losing his sanity, because his entire world has crumbled around him.
Yes, it's a bit depressing, but it still happens to be an entertaining read.
on June 10, 2014
One source of disappointment among us Stephen King fans is that the general public sees him as being merely a purveyor of supernatural tales. For those who have taken to the time to explore his prodigious bibliography, we know that some of his finest work is bereft of anything spooky, horrific, or fantastical. DIFFERENT SEASONS and the 2009 short story “Premium Harmony” are among his best work. ROADWORK, however, is one of King’s earlier flirtations with realism that misses the mark by a wide margin.
The novel attempts to derive its tension from the psychological unraveling of its anti-hero, Bart Dawes. Dawes finds himself at 40 years old, stewing in the Carter Era’s “Crisis of Confidence,” his career hitting a cul-de-sac, his marriage devoid of feeling and living in the aftermath of the loss of their child. When a new highway is set to raze his employer and his home, Bart has a target for all the pent-up misgivings that have been driving him closer and closer to a violent edge. The showdown looms as Bart sets his affairs in order for a final, brutal standoff with forces larger than himself.
There’s simply not enough story to keep the reader motivated. Not enough loose ends to demand focus. The author attempts to immerse us in the mind of a man making his last stand, but the effort comes up short. We’re not rooting for or against Bart. We’re merely observing him. Perhaps it was a poor choice to make Bart only 40, an age that doesn’t really call to mind life’s dead horse latitudes.
The novel’s themes feel undercooked, as if they were just outside of Stephen King’s competence at the time. He’s grown tremendously as an author, which is a huge accomplishment considering the genius he had from the beginning. As well-written as it is, ROADWORK is an exception to his formidable record.
on April 29, 2005
This book is set during the Oil Embargo of the 1970's. The reader is introduced to yet another one of King's "Beautiful Losers" Bart Dawes. Bart has managed to deliberately get fired from his job at the local laundry and as a consquence has thrown away his mariage as well. The reason for this is that the City is planning to build a road where his house is standing. Instead of selling his house to the City for a grossly overinflated price Bart decides to make a stand and drinks endless bottles of Southern Comfort and blows up roadwork machinery.For some reason King presents all of this in a romantic light. However I fail to see how the self destruction of a man is in any way "romantic".I give this book 5 stars because it didn't get to the Bestseller List until King released the book under his own name.