8.24.2007

Roadwork

For my money, there's no better artistic feeling than when the act of composition is pure and fluid. When the story shines in your mind and the words stack up at the spillway of the dam in your head, then tumble out and filter through your keystrokes and onto the page-that's when you feel the invigoration of the writing process. And it's these days-the ones where it comes in a torrent and you look up and the hands on the clock have somehow moved, but you weren't sure when-that often lead to the best of your work in progress. They require less editing than the trench warfare days, when you need to motivate yourself to dash off a word count, knowing full well it'll end up on the cutting-room floor when push comes to editing shove.

You can probably tell I enjoyed my writing today.

Let's talk books. In the last year, I've been profoundly moved by two very different books. I pert near shed a tear at the conclusion of Cormac McCarthy's beautiful novel The Road. The same was the case for Richard Bachman's Roadwork.

Bachman is the caustic alter-ego of Stephen King, and while I have yet to read Blaze, I think Roadwork is my favorite of the Bachman Books.

Roadwork is the story of a man haunted by the loss of a child, a marriage and a way of life. Barton Dawes, our story's protagonist, is a man on the edge. His job is at risk. His marriage is under strain. His house will soon be gobbled up under the contemptible auspice of eminent domain. He decides, against his baser instincts, to sabotage the laundry that provided him with his middle-class, suburban lifestyle. Better to sink the ship than deed it to the corporate raiders. He, and this is most painful, allows his lies and deceptions to kill his marriage, letting it whither on the vine. And he ultimately decides to blow up the unnecessary road that will take his house.

Bachman's prose is clean and spare. The narrative moves fluidly and crackles with political messages about topics like consumption and waste and pork-barrel bureaucracy. Bachman's ability to create rich characters (Dawes is a doozy, and I love the Italian gangster, Magliore, that sets him up with the explosives) only dips on one account. I would have enjoyed more depth on Mary, the tortured wife who illustrates some round characteristics after her split-up with Bart, but never truly illustrates the dynamic character one would hope to see from her.

Bachman compensates us generously for the lack of exposition in Mary with his depiction of Bart. This story works because of Bart. Bart represents an ideal-a line in the sand for the existential man that suddenly wakes up in middle age to the discovery that things hadn't gone according to The Plan. As he gets kicked around by the system, we begin to care for him. As he slowly opens up to the fatalistic opportunities (a tryst with a drifter; consorting with the mob) that validate his awakening vitality, we fear for him.

Part of us wants Bart to follow the safe patterns that have become part of his circuitry. Reconcile with Mary. Get another job in middle management. Look for a new house in a gated subdivision.

But part of us (a pretty big part, actually) wants him to keep on boozing and blow the damned freeway to Walla Walla, Washington.

It all makes you squirm, and it adds up to a whopper of a lesson in self-examination.

I really enjoyed The Long Walk, and I think The Running Man was a neat yarn, but Roadwork is the Bachman story that has stuck with me the longest.

And on further analysis, I suppose The Road and Roadwork aren't really that far apart. McCarthy's work focuses on the end of the world. Bachman's focuses on the end of a world-a sorrowful prospect indeed that plays out in those moments of quiet desperation that Thoreau discussed so many years ago.

On a happier note, this guy is really neat. Gotta love Oregonians and their pioneer spirit.

So let's swap. What do you guys recommend I read?

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