14 Aug 2009

A Review of Jon Scieszka’s Smash! Crash!

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In an outcome that was unexpected though not altogether surprising, I have read Jon Scieszka’s Smash! Crash! for (if I’m not mistaken) at least the last four nights, generally in the 7:45pm – 8:15pm window. Each session consisted of an honest cover-to-cover reading; in fact, at times I felt almost compelled to turn to a previous page and begin resuming my reading from that prior point. Given my unusual week, I thought I would share my thoughts on Smash! Crash! as I have explored them. –RPM


Jon Scieszka’s Smash! Crash!
(New York: Scholastic, Inc., 2008, 36+ii pages, illustrations)
A Book Review By Robert P. Murphy

Scieszka’s latest [.jpg] has become something of a household name. And unlike other books achieving notoriety despite a weak plot line and poor character development, Smash! Crash! has got the goods.

The book follows two aimless young vehicles, Jack Truck and Dump Truck Dan (best friends, Jack and Dan), as they stalk from one awkward and irrational social scene to the next. Some readers may choose to interpret Scieszka as mirroring Kubrick in this respect; the young trucks seek out their “ultraviolence” in a way, though if one hopes that Scieszka’s subtle clues give a straightforward confirmation or denial–well, one would hope in vain.

For my part, I reject the Clockwork Orange interpretation. Though the actions of the anti-heroes in both works are utterly incomprehensible, and though the anti-heroes’ extremely anti-social behaviors are starkly present in both works, even so, there are tremendous differences.

For one trivial observation: Nobody dies in Smash! Crash!

A second, and perhaps more poignant observation, is that the redemption in Scieszka’s tale is legitimate. It’s true, Jack Truck and Dump Truck Dan never express remorse for their transgressions. The worst victim of their crimes, Cement Mixer Melvin, was simply covered from bumper to bumper in the sand/water mixture. (!) Yet despite this outrage, Scieszka depicts not even a moment’s regret from our trucks.

But is that the end of the story? No, it’s not. At the end of the story, we see Jack and Dan’s aggression harnessed into socially useful behavior–they assist Wrecking Crane Rosie (who is huge and who is strong and who booms, “Follow Me”) as she must smash and crash an abandoned building.

Let us be clear: Jack Truck and Dump Truck Dan are not “repaying their debt” to society, for they owe society nothing. As Jack explains in the book’s final words:

“We can do that,” says Jack. “We love to…”

The use of violence and psychological warfare cannot contain the insanely criminal. We know this; Kubrick taught it to us. Yet the liberal who was relieved by this demonstration, also realized–deep down–that she had no solution for people such as Alex DeLarge.

Has Scieszka found the humane yet realistic answer? Do we just need to find the right jobs for these people?

Robert P. Murphy holds a Ph.D. in economics from New York University. He is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression and the New Deal (Regnery, 2009), and is the editor of the blog Free Advice.

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