Roadwork is another of the “Bachman Books“, written by Stephen King under a pseudonym (supposedly because he wanted to see if he could reproduce his success), and the next in the series I’ve been reading following The Long Walk. Like The Long Walk, it’s one of very few Stephen King stories I wasn’t already aware of without having read it. It’s also unlike anything of King’s I’m familiar with. To look at the novel’s synopsis, its blurb or its early front covers, you’d be led to believe it’s a novel about a man’s tense, violent stand-off against the progress of a new road. A siege, perhaps. This is really not the case.
Roadwork is the story of a man deep in the throws of a mental breakdown. There’s a road coming through his neighbourhood, driving everyone to move as they tear down houses and his old business. Essentially, tearing through everything that the main character, Barton George Dawes, holds dear about his life history. It opens with him buying guns, and he spends a sizeable part of the novel hunting for explosives, but Dawes has no especial goal in mind; he is not on a campaign of vengeance, and the focus of the novel is not a stand-off or a siege.
The focus of the novel is Dawes’ gradually deteriorating mind, and the way his life crumbles around, as he makes a series of outlandish (cringeworthy) decisions over the period of a few months. Everything he values is laid to waste, everyone around him is irreversibly affected, but it’s nothing to do with violence and aggressive resistance. It’s all about how something deep in his mind has snapped, and past trials have left him troubled, defeated and searching for some meaning, or at least some way out. It’s a brilliant depiction of the decay of a mind: brutal, affecting and uncomfortable, without any particular ingenious design or purpose.
Roadwork is a very human story, with elements of horror and tension playing out in emotional ways, not relying on action and violence. It’s not a perfect novel; the very realistic portrayal of a troubled man making devastating decisions makes for a rather illogically structured story, and the text itself could still use a good edit. But it’s an affecting tale all the same, and makes for reading as enticing and dramatic as King’s more out-and-out horror tales.