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First edition cover
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
Roadwork is a novel by Stephen King, published in 1981 under the pseudonym Richard Bachman as a paperback original. It was collected in 1985 in the hardcover omnibus The Bachman Books, which is no longer in print. However, three of the four novels in that collection - Roadwork, The Long Walk, and The Running Man - have since been reprinted as standalone titles.
The story takes place in an unnamed Midwestern city in 1973–1974. Grieving over the death of his son and the disintegration of his marriage, a man is driven to mental instability when he learns that both his home and his workplace will be demolished to make way for an extension to an interstate highway.
The novel starts with a "man on the street" news interview in August 1972, in which an unnamed man (later identified as Barton George Dawes) gives his angry opinion of a new highway extension project. The narrative then jumps forward to November 1973, with Dawes, seemingly unaware of the underlying motivations of his actions, visiting a gun shop and purchasing a heavy-caliber revolver and a powerful Weatherby hunting rifle. As the story progresses, it is revealed that Dawes' son Charlie had died from brain cancer three years earlier, and that Dawes is unable or unwilling to sever his emotional ties to both the industrial laundry where he works and the house in which Charlie grew up. The laundry and his entire neighborhood are to be demolished as part of the project.
Dawes resigns his middle management job at the laundry after sabotaging the purchase of its new facility, and his wife Mary leaves him once she learns of both these actions and his failure to find a new house for the couple. Dawes then approaches Salvatore "Sal" Magliore, the owner of a local used-car dealership with ties to the Mob, in an attempt to obtain explosives. Magliore initially dismisses him as a crackpot, so Dawes assembles a load of Molotov cocktails and uses them to damage the highway construction equipment. He is not caught, but his actions cause only a brief delay in the project. Dawes initially refuses to accept the money being offered by the city for the house under the eminent domain statute, but changes his mind after the city's attorney threatens to publicize his brief tryst with Olivia Brenner, a young hitchhiker who had previously taken shelter at the house. Magliore has the house checked for listening devices planted by the city and later agrees to sell him a load of explosives. Dawes gives half the money from the house sale to Mary and has Magliore invest most of the remainder on behalf of Olivia.
In January 1974, with only hours remaining before he is required to leave the property, Dawes wires the whole house with the explosives and barricades himself inside. When the police arrive to forcibly evict him, he shoots at them, killing no one but forcing them to take cover and attracting the attention of the media. Dawes coerces the police into letting a reporter - the same one who interviewed him in 1972, though neither recognizes the other - come in and speak to him. Once the reporter has left, Dawes tosses his guns out the window and sets off his explosives, destroying the house and killing himself.
A short epilogue reveals in the reporter's story on the incident that there was no real reason for the extension project; the city had to build a certain number of miles of road per year in order to remain eligible for federal funding on interstate construction projects. It also reveals the city was quietly preparing a suit to recover the eminent domain payout from Mary and Olivia, but subsequently dropped the suit in the wake of public outcry.
In the introduction to The Bachman Books, King stated: "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." King also described his disappointment with the work, and stated that he was of two minds about having it reprinted, but decided to in the end in order to give readers an insight into his personality at the time. In a new introduction to the second edition of The Bachman Books, King stated that he had changed his mind and that Roadwork had become his favorite of the early books.
Connection to King's other works
- Desperation - Barton George Dawes tells an identical story about owning a rifle to a story told by Audrey Wyler in Desperation, another story by Stephen King. In Desperation, Audrey says "The year I was twelve, my old man gave me a .22. The first thing I did was to go outside our house in Sedilia and shoot a jay. When I went over to it, it was still alive, too. It was trembling all over, staring straight ahead, and its beak was opening and closing, very slowly." In Roadwork, Dawes is thinking about .22 single-shot rifle he had as a boy. "He (Dawes) had wanted that rifle for three years and when he finally got it he couldn't think of anything to do with it. He shot at cans for a while, then shot a blue jay. The jay hadn't been a clean kill. It sat in the snow surrounded by a pink blood stain, its beak slowly opening and closing." In both stories, the gun and the bird are identical, as is the detail about the beak 'opening and closing' slowly.
- This is also similar to an event in Apt Pupil where antagonist Todd Bowden sees an injured blue jay on the ground whilst cycling, and again there is a reference the beak "opening and closing" slowly.
- The Mangler - It is mentioned that the ironer in the George's laundromat is nicknamed "The Mangler" because of "what would happen to you if you ever got caught in it." In one of King's short stories, The Mangler, a detective is called in to investigate a death caused by a demon-possessed ironer in similar industrial laundromat.