A Close Reading Of Stephen King’s Short Story “Trucks”

Best read with the text of the story.

Pericope # 1:

The guy’s name was Snodgrass and I could see him getting ready to do something crazy.

Sets up an action that won’t be concluded until the end of the scene. This action is significant for a reason that will be explained below.

Pericope #2:

The two kids who had come skidding into the parking lot in the old Fury were trying to talk to him, but his head was cocked as though he was hearing other voices.

This is an interruption. The focus shifts for a beat to introduce two more characters. At the same time, it is a continuation of the developing idea that Snodgrass has gone insane. I will have more to say about Snodgrass’s insanity below.

Pericope #3

‘Try the radio again,’ the truck driver at the counter said.

The short-order cook shrugged and turned it on. He flipped it across the band and got nothing but static.

‘You went too fast,’ the trucker protested. ‘You might have missed something.’

‘Hell,’ the short-order cook said. He was an elderly black man with a smile of gold and he wasn’t looking at the trucker. He was looking through the diner-length picture window at the parking lot.

This is an interruption. It introduces two more characters, a trucker and a black cook. They are characterized as two people reacting to stress in different ways. The trucker becomes petulant, and the cook is distracted. The object of their stress is missing from the picture, but the cook’s gaze points towards it.

Pericope #4:

Seven or eight heavy trucks were out there, engines rumbling in low, idling roars that sounded like big cats purring.

[snip]

Halfway across the lot from it lay the body of a girl in a pink dress. She had jumped from the Caddy when she saw it wasn’t going to make it. She had hit running but never had a chance. She was the worst, even though she was face down. There were flies around her in clouds.

This pericope extends over several paragraphs. He describes the scene through the picture window, but it continues to withhold any information about the cause of the carnage. We will presently find out that the story takes place inside a truck stop, and the scene through the picture window is in the parking lot. This creates an inside/outside dichotomy that will be important in establishing the main conflict of the story.

Pericope #5:

‘You went too fast,’ the trucker was protesting. ‘You oughta — ’

That was when Snodgrass bolted.

The dialog takes the reader back to the time frame of pericope #3. The action of pericope #1 is then completed. Snodgrass leaves the inside for the outside, which is a violation and danger in this story. He is run down by a truck.

Pericope #6:

The big truck’s brakes hissed like dragon’s breath, its front wheels locked, digging grooves into the gravel skin of the lot, and it stopped inches from jackknifing in. The bastard.

Who is the “bastard?” Presently, we will find out that the narrator is referring to the truck itself. The trucks become sensient, hence the narrator begins personifying the trucks as monsters.

Pericope #7:

My own car was around the side, also battered to junk. It was a 1971 Camaro and I had still been paying on it, but I didn’t suppose that mattered now.

There was no one in the trucks.

The sun glittered and flashed on empty cabs. The wheels turned themselves. You couldn’t think about it too much. You’d go insane if you thought about it too much. Like Snodgrass.

These paragraphs conclude the first scene in the story. The narrator introduces himself through his car. Then he reveals the missing puzzle piece that explains everything that has come before: Snodgrass’s madness, the general sense of anxiety, the smashed cars and the dead bodies.

Pericope #8:

Outside, the trucks patrolled in slow circles and figure eights.

[snip]

It was a standard truck stop, close to the major throughway, a complete service facility out back, gas and diesel fuel both. The truckers came here for coffee and pie.

This is a summary of the basic situation of the story so far, but it also underlines the move away from a status quo. The standard truck stop, where truckers went for coffee and pie, has been transformed into the site of a horror movie siege. The trucks could easily be zombies or alien monsters.

Pericope #9:

In a pair of monologues, the narrator and the two kids tell how they came to the diner and the destruction they saw a big rig and a Greyhound bus cause on the freeway, adding further backstory information.

Pericope #10:

Growling, [the trucks] cruised back and forth. The headlights seemed to give them eyes, and in the growing gloom, the dark trailer boxes looked like the hunched, squared-off shoulders of prehistoric giants.

More personification of the trucks.

Pericope #11:

‘I can’t understand it,’ the trucker said. [snip] ‘I ain’t had no problems with my rig. She’s a good old girl. I pulled in here a little past one for a spaghetti dinner and this happens.’

More personification, but this time not as a monster, but as a faithless woman.

Pericope # 12:

Around seven o’clock I walked over to the counterman. ‘How are we fixed here? I mean, if we have to stay a while?’

At this point in the story, we have learned who, where, what and how they all got there. The set-up is complete. Now it is time for the protagonist to do something. So they formulate a plan. They will wait out the trucks. And things look okay maybe. They got lots of food in the fridge. The trucker breaks into the cigarette machine and grabs himself a bunch of packs. The kids put some CCR on the juke. Everything is gonna be alright.

Pericope #13:

At eight-thirty the power went off.

Nope. The ol’ try/fail cycle strikes again. With no power, the food is going to spoil. Worse, they can’t get any water out of the well. Time for another plan. They are going to get water out of the bathroom toilets, but to do so they have to go outside like Snodgrass. This entails danger.

Pericope #14:

The night air had cooled. Crickets chirred in the grass, and frogs thumped and croaked in the drainage ditch. Out here the rumble of the trucks was louder, more menacing, the sound of beasts. From inside it was a movie. Out here it was real, you could get killed.

Another try/fail cycle. They survive, but don’t bring back much water.

More important to note is the nice sensory details here. Once you got the story in motion, you can bring out the poetry and reality effects to really bring the reader into your world.

Pericope #15:

‘I want to block up that doorway,’ I said to the counterman. ‘What will do the trick?’

‘Well — ’

The trucker broke in:‘Why? One of those big trucks couldn’t get a wheel in through there.’

This is the story’s first agon. After his close encounter with a killer truck, the narrator wants to shore up their defensive position, but the trucker thinks that this is a waste of time.

Pericope #16:

‘We got some sheet sidin’ out in the supply room,’ the counterman said. ‘Boss was gonna put up a shed to store butane gas.’

‘We’ll put them across and prop them with a couple of booths.’

‘It’ll help,’ the trucker said.

But the agon is quickly diffused.

Pericope #17:

It must have been early morning when Snodgrass began to scream.

This is an interruption of the try/fail cycles. This interlude mainly functions to heighten the horror.

Pericope #18:

The horn began to blare again; hard, hungry blasts that travelled off in straight, flat lines and echoed back. There was a pattern. Shorts and longs in some kind of rhythm.

‘That’s Morse!’ the kid, Jerry, suddenly exclaimed.

Plot twist. The trucks need the humans to gas them up.

Pericope #19:

‘Well,’ the kid said, ‘what do we do?’

‘Nothing,’ the trucker said. His face was excited and working. ‘All we have to do is wait. They must all be low on fuel. One of the little ones out back has already stopped. All we have to do — ’

The agon is reinginighted.

Pericope #20:

‘We gotta stop it,’ he gibbered. ‘Tell ’em we’ll do it, we’ll do anything — ’

‘A little late, isn’t it?’

The protagonist wins the agon as the bulldozer begins to smash the truck stop. On the other hand, inside/outside dichotomy gets obliterated. The protagonist formulates another plan. They attack the bulldozer with Molotov cocktails. The kid gets crushed, and the trucker take’s the coward’s way out and gets crushed. The narrator finally stops fighting and goes out to pump the gas.

The story essentially ends here, but we get a kind of epilogue, where the narrator speculates about the rise of the machines and the end of humanity.

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Knowcebo lives somewhere in California.

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Knowcebo Effect

Knowcebo Effect

Knowcebo lives somewhere in California.

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