You Can’t Always Understand Something Just Because You Did It

(Roadwork)

To give you a sense of time, I’ve reached the book that I was reading when I started writing these. It didn’t take me long to write all of these. I will finish the book today, and this post, too, I suppose. I haven’t put any of them on a blog yet, but I’m guessing that once I’m done writing this, it will be time to do that. I’ll figure out a schedule, space them out, then, starting with the next one, just release them as I read the books and write the posts. Future books might get more than one post, if I have more than one post’s worth of thoughts and want to take a break in the middle to write stuff down. Or not. I don’t really know – I didn’t really mean to start doing this in the first place, so I’m playing it kind of by ear.

Roadwork is another one of those Bachman books – the third in the collection that included Rage. I think. I should probably stop making definitive statements about how the books were ordered in a collection I no longer own and haven’t seen since I was a junior in high school. But this is definitely the order of their publication, so why wouldn’t they have been collected this way?

I called Rage and The Long Walk both Angry White Boy stories. This is the continuation of that theme – this time, it’s an Angry White Man story. Essentially, we have our main character, Barton George Dawes. Barton lives in a house and works in an industrial laundry (there’s that setting again!) However, a road extension is being built, and it’s going to eminent domain Mr. Dawes out of both his house and his job (and conveniently for the story, he’s in charge of finding a new location for his job as well as a new house to live in.) Rather than do his job as a laundry executive or his job as a homeowner and either take the money and find new places or find some sort of legal objection that will change things or slow them down, Barton George Dawes opts to blow up his life – and the lives of his wife and some colleagues – instead. He also tries to blow up the road, but that’s much less effective than the life blowing up part.

I don’t like Barton George Dawes. I think we’re supposed to feel for him, but frankly, I feel for his wife, who is stuck living in the 60s or 70s where being a housewife was sort of expected of her and is left with not much in the way of her own independent resources when her husband decides that he’s going to blow up their lives over a road extension. Plus, after it all comes out and she leaves, he seems to dislike and blame her for the shit that is his life – even though he’s the one with all of the control over it. More to the point, I get the feeling the book dislikes and blames her. It would be one thing to have a character do that, but there’s nothing in the story to indicate that the character’s feelings are unfair. They are, though. Oh, and also, they have a dead kid. Two, if you count her miscarriage – she had that and then a baby that was born and grew for a little while and then died of a brain tumor. Which is horribly sad for both of them, but he never seems to get that it was sad for her. He seems to take her ability to move through the stages of grief and come out on the other side as proof that she doesn’t care, since he’s stuck in the “blow up the road” stage of grief. It’s crappy. He’s crappy.

I also feel for the people who worked at the Blue Ribbon Laundry that Barton George Dawes neglected to get a new location for. Because after he got fired for not doing this crucial part of his job, the corporation that owned the laundry and several other businesses decided to just cut their losses, take the eminent domain money, and not reopen the business elsewhere. Probably putting any number of people out of work. Now, to be fair, Dawes runs into a couple of these people later and the ones he sees have landed on their feet, but you know there’s some single mom who spent the last 15 years folding towels or whatever and can’t find another laundry job and isn’t getting hired anyplace else with that skillset. But does Barton George Dawes care? No, because wah, wah, wah, the road is going to knock down the places he lived and worked while his child was alive, and clearly that’s unfair and the world hates him and he’s entitled to ruin other lives because of it.

The other important character here is the barely-legal hitchhiker he picks up after his wife leaves him. He tells her that he’s a good guy and he’s not in it to sleep with a young girl, then he promptly sleeps with her anyway. It’s not a rape or anything, but it’s still gross. She’s a young girl with problems of her own, and he’s an older dude who cares about no one but himself, feels empty because of it, and briefly tries to fill the holes in his own soul with whatever he can find in a younger, tighter vagina. It’s just gross.

The dynamic between them is at least somewhat interesting. King does this again – but much better – in his brand new (at the time of this writing) book Billy Summers. His hired hitman in that book is smart enough and kind enough to help the young girl and not sleep with her, even when she kind of throws herself at him. That throwing herself part is kind of gross when you remember that this is an old dude writing what he thinks a young woman would do in the situation, but at least his main character there doesn’t seem to be a dirty old man who’s lying to himself.

Anyway, the upshot is a standoff that Barton George Dawes will absolutely and deservedly lose. I think there’s a point here about being stuck in grief and denial, along with some topical-at-the-time points about the energy crisis and the forward march of progress that sometimes runs over little people in their comfortable little homes and jobs. There’s a way to do that well, and I’m sure that King could do it – maybe has done it – but what he’s given us here is an entitled, overprivileged white dude who doesn’t appreciate any of that privilege, who doesn’t care who he hurts, and who blows up his own life for no good reason. I don’t really hate the story, despite how it sounds. But I do strongly dislike Barton George Dawes, and since he’s telling the story, I don’t really see any way to talk about it without that coming through.

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