The third Bachman novel, Roadwork, is another portrait of a seethingly angry man acting out against his grievances with society. In Rage, the protagonist dealt with his anti-social angst by taking his classroom hostage and killing two teachers. In The Long Walk, the protagonist deals with it by joining a ghastly game show that runs people down to their deaths. Roadwork is a little less kinetic than either; the protagonist here, George Dawes, simply gives into inertia and refuses to progress along with everyone else. A highway extension is slated to destroy an old suburban neighbourhood and Dawes is in charge of finding both a new house to live and a new location for the industrial laundry he works for. In an act of rebellion against the inherent unfairness of the situation, he decides to do neither. He refuses to vacate his property, and ends up getting shot and killed in a stand-off with the police.
In other words, it’s a very American story of the late 1970s, despite being set in the earlier part of the decade. Everyone else in George’s life has decided to go along with the change – say goodbye to the old neighbourhood, the old workplace, the old way of life. Things are getting meaner, and the little guy doesn’t have anyone to stand up for him anymore, not really. The oil crisis is settling in, the recession is hitting hard, and, as Bruce Springsteen would point out around the same time Roadwork was published, the good jobs were gone and they weren’t coming back. George lost his young son to brain cancer; now he’s losing his house and his workplace. Had he been faced with this crisis 43 years later, he would have been a Trump voter; like Trump, George just wanted to burn the whole thing down.
Here’s what it looks like:
What leaps out immediately is that it’s very front-loaded. All of the emotional heavy lifting seems to occur in the first half of the book. 25 is the last section of any emotional weight until just before the end, and it’s coincidentally the beginning of the last third of the book, covering the events of January 1973 and the end of George’s life.
The line graph shows it even more dramatically:
The first half is dominated by big negative spikes and then, after the December-January changeover of 24-25, it sets into an even keel that trends slightly downward, in a muttering sort of way. George’s final days start with the highest positive peak of the book before settling down into their inevitable violent end.
As for the negative peaks, chapter 8 is where he meets up with mobster/car dealer Sal, who sets in motions the events that will eventually lead to George’s standoff with the police. 17 is where George takes a call and finds out his work family is shattered: his old boss is trying to find out if George was embezzling and his old co-worker Arnie killed himself. Also of interest is that the prologue of the book starts off highly negative, which makes sense since Dawes gets man-on-the-street interviewed and calls the developments “a piece of shit” and there isn’t much positive language to offset the negative aspects.
40, of course, is the final standoff, set to Let It Bleed.
The smooth line graph shows the same thing:
George’s life bottoms out around chapter 15 – the chapter where he meets up with his wife Mary and she lays on him in no uncertain terms the cold fact that wishing the construction work away won’t make their house continue standing. Our emotional reading of the situation rises from there, as George continues to refuse to deal with reality. This height tops off around chapter 26-27 – the beginning of that last January, as mentioned above – before hurtling rapidly downhill.
There’s the distribution for Roadwork. 70% or so of the book occurs within 20 and -20, but there are a lot of instances outside of that as well, making a map that gives those big spike points but also a whole third of the book that stays colouring within the lines.
The stats on this one look like this:
Interesting that, despite such deep spikes of sentiment, the mean sentiment score for the book is quite close to zero. It actually has the most positive mean score of any of the Bachman books. That seems odd, but then consider the other Bachman books.
Finally, the word scores, for anyone who actually cares about them:
(These will be more interesting when compared with each other and the overall corpus of King’s work in general).