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.