Hey, sorry it’s been most of the year since an update. Let’s get back in the driver’s seat (figuratively speaking) with a classic Stephen King story – Trucks.
Trucks, first published in 1973 (and collected in 1978’s Night Shift), is the story of a group trapped inside of a truck stop as vehicles magically come to life. Trucks was adapted into a movie (Maximum Overdrive) by King in 1986, and I think it came to symbolize the bizarre, weird coke-fueled stories written by King during this period. But thinking on it again recenty, there is some literary quality (or meaning, to be more accurate) buried beneath the pulpy skin of the story.
The story begins with the quick, sudden takeover of all things mechanical. Semis and cars alike roam outside the truck stop, murdering every human they see (or sense, or whatever). However, the vehicles slowly begin “dying” as they run out of fuel. The trucks that remain running begin demanding, through morse code, that the survivors refuel them with the promise that they will be allowed to live if they do so.
The survivors initially refuse, opting to wait the trucks out, but a bulldozer plows through the building, killing two and leaving the rest exposed to further attack by the trucks. The survivors surrender, with the narrator providing a bleak vision of the future:
So much of the world is paved now. Even the playgrounds are paved. And for the fields and marshes and deep woods there are tanks, half-tracks, flatbeds equipped with lasers, masers, heat-seeking radar. And little by little, they can make it into the world they want.
I can see great convoys of trucks filling the Okeefenokee Swamp with sand, the bulldozers ripping through the national parks and wetlands, grading the earth flat, stamping it into one great flat plain. And then the hot-top trucks arriving…
And if I close my eyes I can see the production lines in Detroit and Dearborn and Youngstown and Mackinac, new trucks being put together by blue-collars who no longer even punch a clock but only drop and are replaced.
I think the subtext of the story, which I’m surprised didn’t come to me earlier (and probably has come to a few others before me) is a fear of mechanization. The early 70s were a critical time in the development of the automobile – gas was cheap, highways were being built and improved everywhere, and personal cars were the mode of transportation.
The final vision of the narrator is what spells out the subtext more clearly. Having seen rural Appalachia develop firsthand over the last 15 years or so, I can appreciate the effect that the sudden growth and modernization of New England in the 70s must have had on King. I think it’s a reaction to the fear that the quiet and isolation of the wilderness will disappear under slabs of pavement and urban sprawl.
That’s my take on it, at least. Still trying to figure out the subtext in The Mangler. Demonically-possessed laundry press goes on a rampage, what?