Author: Peter Benchley
Publication Date: February 1974
Genre(s): Horror, Thriller, Adult fiction, Classics
The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail.
The small town of Amity, located on Long Island, depends on the summer people for survival. In the winter, the population is only 1000; in the summer, it grows to 10000 and businesses boom. The money that the townspeople of Amity make during the summer keeps them alive during the desolate winters, which means one bad summer equals a very bad winter. In the summer of ’74, terror is unleashed on Amity. A massive great white prowls the waters and stalks the beach-goers, claiming one life after another. Police Chief Martin Brody’s number one job is to keep people safe, but how can he do that when closing the beaches means bad publicity for Amity, but keeping the beaches open gets people killed? With the help of Matt Hooper, a marine biologist, and Qint, a professional shark hunter, Brody attempts to kill the white death and save his town. But this fish seems to be a lot smarter than everyone thinks, and Brody begins to doubt if such a task is even possible.
Okay, if you haven’t seen Jaws, you’ve been living under a rock. Come on, guys. My best friend actually hasn’t seen it, but I don’t blame her, she hasn’t seen very many movies, honestly. For me, Jaws was the movie I saw as a kid that scared me to death. I was never allowed to watch horror movies, but for some reason my parents let me watch Jaws. I was already terrified of the ocean before it, and afterwards I pretty much decided to boycott the ocean, or any body of water except pools, for the rest of my life. Hell, I was even afraid of pools after watching Jaws. I wasn’t a very smart kid, obviously. But for some reason, I kept going back to it, watching it whenever I saw it on TV. I was obsessed with Shark Week on the Discovery channel, too. And don’t even get me started on Sharknado, combining two of the scariest things ever: sharks and tornadoes. Anyway, what I’m trying to get at, here, is that Jaws is scary, was scary, and will forever be scary.
I didn’t know there was a novel before the film until about a year ago. Then, a few month ago, I found a copy in a book sale that I was in charge of and I got to keep it. The cover is torn and actually fell off while I was reading it, and the pages are yellow and ripped, but I think I’m going to keep it forever. I loved this novel more than I thought I would. From the opening line, Jaws has you hooked. It’s told in third-person omniscient and is about 300 pages (that’s the mass-market paperback size, at least). I like that Benchley gave us narration not only of the people of Amity, but even the shark. We get to see what the people are doing as well as what the shark’s doing, and that’s especially interesting and terrifying during the attacks. I was surprised how different the story was from the film. It was interesting to see the choices made in the movie after reading the novel. I’m glad it was different, too, because it kept me interested. In fact, I flew through this novel. I usually read thrillers pretty quickly, but wow, this one took no time at all. I honestly didn’t think I would even like the novel, so it was a pleasant surprise. I even enjoyed the boring parts, like the long, drawn-out scenes of Ellen’s affair. I’m glad they kept that out of the movie. It was important to Ellen’s very late coming of age and to add to the divide between the summer and winter people, but it was definitely a huge break in the story and had almost nothing to do with the shark. Overall, though, flawless novel.
It was hard to fully dislike anyone in Jaws. Brody is definitely my favorite. Man, I love that guy. He has everyone against him all the time and still follows his own gut. He’s had terrible nightmares of being out in the ocean and being in a sinking ship, yet he goes out on the boat anyway to try and catch a massive, man-eating shark. He’s got guts, and he’s cool. His wife, Ellen, is not my favorite, and that’s probably because she isn’t fully an adult until almost the end. And even then, she still pisses me off. But at the same time, I understand her sadness, her longing for a past life, and her inability to accept things the way they are. Like I said, I can’t fully dislike her. The characters I probably disliked the most were Hooper and Vaughan, but I guess they both got what was coming to them in the end.
I’d never even heard of Peter Benchley before reading Jaws. I am not cultured, apparently. I see he’s written a bunch of other novels, many about sharks and the ocean, but I’ll probably never read any of them. His writing was great, though. It was so easy to get sucked into the story and forget about the outside world. And he’s excellent at writing thrillers. I mean, I was sitting in the bathtub reading this and my heart was pounding and I was getting nervous. In the bath. The scariest thing about Jaws, though, is not the shark nor the stupidity of the human race, but actually the fact that there’s no sequel. Seriously. I finished the novel and was about to log onto the ODL and rent the sequel and I realized that Benchley never wrote a sequel. There are three movies and only one novel and yes my heart is breaking right now. I wanted more. I wanted more from Benchley. And I get nothing. He ended Jaws flawlessly, though. Super open-ended, but I enjoyed it. But then again, I enjoyed it because I thought it would be continued in the sequel. Now my day is clouded by sadness. Mr. Benchley, what have you done?
Favorite Quote(s): “The past – like a bird long locked in a cage and suddenly released – was flying at her, swirling around her head, showering her with longing.”
“The past always seems better when you look back on it than it did at the time. And the present never looks as good as it will in the future. It’s depressing if you spend too much time reliving old joys. You think you’ll never have anything as good again.”