Book #10. Roadwork.
First published March, 1981.
What is most interesting about this process I have embarked upon - the reading of all of Stephen King's writings in chronological order of being published - is the difference in styles at different times. Obviously this will occur most when books have been written at far different times than one after the other. This story is certainly not a horror story, it is a dramatic story of a man whose world is collapsing around him and he is incapable or unable to stop from sabotaging his own life.
King has mentioned in dispatches that it was written in the year after his mother was taken by cancer, and a fair amount of melancholy appears to have gone into the writing. Certainly the protagonist Dawes has a fair bit going on that he cannot fathom. His son has recently passed on due to cancer, and a new highway extension is not only claiming requiring that his workplace find new premises as it will be demolished, so is his house where his strongest ties to his dead son prevail. It all becomes too much for him to deal with. What results from this is his complete inaction to do anything in regards to his workplace where he is supposed to be finding a new location for the business to be moved to, or in accepting that he must also find a new place to live. And so, despite what he has been saying to those around him, he creates a massive problem at work and in his home life once his duplicity (or inactivity) has been discovered. To exacerbate this, he then quits his job rather than accept his mistakes, and his wife is brought to the brink and decides to separate.
I have always had some trouble coming to terms with the breakdown of the relationship between husband and wife here - much as I did in similar circumstances with the future Bachman novel Thinner, but more on that later - and that troubled me more than it probably should have, especially in later readings. But it remains there, not only with the lunacy of Dawes pursuing this as far as he does, but for allowing that to break down his relationship. In the long run, I guess that is what mental imbalance and fatigue will do, isn't it? This is as much about obsession and mental breakdown as it is about the futility of fighting against the powers-that-be, no matter how deluded or crazy the cause may be. The subsequent meeting up and tryst with Olivia then takes on all sorts of other discussion. Perhaps it is just my own paternal feelings taking hold, but this whole section of the plot does hold me back.
Perhaps it is just that I cannot relate with such mental anguish as to not only allow the above to occur, but to then go as far as to purchase explosives illegally and then blow your house and yourself up. And though I am fully aware that this is escapism, a fictional novel that is just a tale that you read for fun and enjoyment. Roadwork has less of that than most of King's work. I am not as invested in the characters as I would normally be, and even the characterisation doesn't excite me as they normally do. King does bring across to the reader the anguish of everyone involved - Dawes, his wife Mary, his employer - but whether it is just me or not, I find this less accessible over time.
My copy of this is a part of the omnibus edition of The Bachman Books, and over the years when I picked it up to read I would faithfully read all four novels without question. Previous to this time however, it had been about twenty years since I had last read Roadwork from cover to cover. It just doesn't hold any joy or substance for me as an ageing adult. If I'm going to re-read a novel obviously it has to be a loved one. It doesn't necessarily have to have that happy ending everyone is looking for, but it has to have a story that can hold the interest without questioning the make up of the story itself. Roadwork is a good novel about how mental anguish can dominate a person's decision making, and how it can affect the people around them, and in the extreme case to go through the process that Dawes eventually concludes with. It's well written and explores all of these things. It's just that in the long run it's not an ENJOYABLE book to read often.
Rating: A miserable end to a miserable three years. 3/5