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Literature / Roadwork

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Roadwork is a 1981 novel written by Stephen King under the alias of Richard Bachman. Barton George Dawes, grieving over the loss of his son and the disintegration of his marriage, is pushed to the edge 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 provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Zigzagged. The novel was published in 1981, while the story takes place between August 1972 and January 1974. Frequent references to real-world events of the year make it feel a bit like a period piece; but the novel was in fact written in the early-to-mid seventies; it just took a while to get published.
  • The '70s: Except for the prologue, the story takes place during the energy crisis of 1973-74.
  • BFG: Dawes purchases a heavy-caliber pistol (.44 Magnum) and rifle (.460 Weatherby Magnum) early in the story. The rifle (described by its seller as "a freaking anti-tank gun") has enough recoil to make his shoulder ache when he test-fires it, and both weapons do quite a number on the police cars that arrive on the morning of his eviction.
  • Canon Welding: Dawes works at Blue Ribbon Laundry, the setting of The Mangler and where Carrie's mother works.
  • Community-Threatening Construction: Dawes learns that his neighborhood and workplace are scheduled for demolition, to make room for an interstate highway extension. Dawes has a mental breakdown and can't bring himself to leave. At the end, he wires his house with explosives, gets into a gun fight with the police who try to evict him, then blows up the house while he's still inside.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Dawes has internal conversations with his dead son.
  • Death of a Child: Dawes' son dies from a brain tumor before the book begins.
  • Downer Ending: Par for the course for a Bachman book. The siege of Dawes' home ends with Dawes blowing the place up with him inside, his defiance was completely useless and the epilogue twists the knife further by explaining that the roadwork was just something done to keep the city's budget at a certain level, making the whole situation mind-numbingly worthless.
  • Kill It with Fire: Dawes tries to do this to the road construction equipment and office trailer, using a load of Molotov cocktails. The damage he causes only delays the project by a couple of weeks.
  • Pointless Civic Project: The titular roadwork turns out to be this in the end.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: After all is said and done, the epilogue reveals that there was no real reason for the extension project; the city was required to build a certain number of miles of road per year or start losing federal funding on future construction.
  • Spell My Name with a Blank: The city where the novel is set is never named. It's almost invariably referred to simply as "the city", and at one point where the context demands a formal name, it's given as M, W. Probably the most prominent candidates (or at least the most famous) based on those initials would be either Milwaukee or Madison, both of which are in Wisconsin; though whether this was King's intention is anybody's guess.
  • Stuff Blowing Up / Do Not Go Gentle: Dawes buys two high-powered firearms and a crate of plastic explosives. When the police arrive to forcibly evict him, he shoots it out with them all morning long and then kills himself by blowing up the house.