Jaws by Peter Benchley

 

 

[Click the cover below to check it out! If you don’t see a book cover below it’s probably ad-blocker settings]

[Fun Fact: I was like halfway through the book before I noticed the swimmer on the cover is actually nakey]

 

“Jaws tells the story of a massive great white shark that preys upon a small resort town, and the voyage of three men to kill it. ”
[this is literally the only synopsis I could find that isn’t the movie’s summary or just talking about the making of/success of Jaws]

 


 
dun dun dun Dun Dun Dun DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DOO dee DOOOOOOOOO

So, lemme tell you a story.

I fuckin’ love the movie Jaws. I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid. I’ve always cheered on the shark. I’ve played most of the Jaws video games as well. To my family’s dismay, my favorite ride at Universal Studios was the Jaws Ride, despite that it broke down all the time and I would insist on riding it at least once any time we’d go for a visit. I used to play ‘Jaws’ with my cousins in which I was always the shark, and they were the swimmers.

I watch the original movie every other month or so. I binge the sequels at least once a year in addition. It’s pretty much become a coping movie for me, I also watch it a lot when I’m stressed and need a soothing distraction. [Yes, I know it’s weird to think of a movie where a megalodon-sized shark violently eats people alive can be soothing, shaddup]

I can quote most of the movie at this point.

But despite that I’ve known for years now that it’s based on a book, I hadn’t actually read the book. When I first found out of it’s existence I almost went straight to a book store to go get it, until a friend of mine that had read it awhile before told me it’s actually significantly different than the movie. That it’s more about the people and a love triangle, than the actual shark. In which I was like ‘wtf, who cares about the people?’ [Hint: Apparently I am not in the norm who care more about the shark than the humans involved] But my friend’s insistence that it’s so drastically different made me put it off for a long time.

I was doing one of my monthly rewatches when I decided that it was time to go ahead and read it and see what the origin of one of my favorite movies of all time was all about.

I hated it.

This is going to get into some major spoilers for the book, so if you’re actually interested in reading it and wanting to go in blind, this review is probably not for you. Also, content warning of references of racism, homophobia, and sexual assault. Yep. We’ll get to that. We’re gonna need a bigger review, because I have a lot of things to say.

Let me just explain to you that within the first chapter of the book that gets more into the Amity side of things, it goes into detail that one of the police officers working for Chief Brody is reading a smut book, and it literally goes into detail about how a woman is about to be gang-raped… and tries to defend herself by castrating one of her attackers with a linoleum knife.

What the literal fuck. THIS IS WITHIN THE FIRST CHAPTER.

You know what else is within the first chapter? A random side mention [that is never approached again] about how Amity police were once called to the beach because ‘a bunch of f*ggots were dancing naked on the beach.’

What the hell is going on here, Peter Benchley? Now, I know that it’s a well known thing that authors really need to snag readers with the beginning of their book. And he succeeds, because the actual opening of the book is of the first shark attack that happens in Amity – we’re introduced to ‘The Fish’ [this is what the shark is referred to the entire book btw – we see things from the shark’s perspective and it’s definitely called a shark by others, but whenever we get these small, fleeting segments, it’s always ‘The Fish.’ However for this review, I will be using Jaws, or Bruce to refer to the shark  – {Bruce is the name of the robot shark from the movie, which is what inspired many sharks named Bruce in later movies} as it hunts/attacks/eats Chrissie. The parts from the perspective of the shark are fantastic, really. So I was immediately hooked [heh].

So I don’t understand why he also had to add both rape and homophobic slurs in the first chapter, because it’s not like people wouldn’t already be interested to keep reading at this point, surely. We’re also not done there, either. Chief Brody is woken up by said police officer, and it’s described that Brody was having a dream of being in high school and groping a classmate [I’m going to also throw out there that this wasn’t exactly framed as consensual, either] and that after he got off the phone with the officer, he was left with a boner.

After I was done with said first chapter, I honestly had to put the book down and just kinda sit there and wonder what the hell I just read, and what the hell I was getting myself into, exactly.

So now let’s go into this whole ‘love triangle’ bit. Police Chief Martin Brody and his wife Ellen Brody are having some ups and downs in their marriage, and at the time of the book, they’re in a pretty low down. They’re both having mid-life crisis-es and taking it out on each other. Martin is aging, and not gracefully. He’s stuck in his police job that barely covers the bills, and he longs for the times he could go chasing tail after the young beach babes and didn’t have to deal with a rising number of anti-authoritarian hippies and rising racial tensions. He’s jealous that Ellen is having the opposite – she’s aging gracefully and despite having three kids, her body is still rockin.’

Ellen is unsatisfied with her life of a stay-at-home mother in a household that can barely make ends meet in a shabby beach town. She came from high-end New York life, and high-end living and friends. She misses said luxury/affluent life and is constantly re-thinking of what her life would be like if she hadn’t met her husband. She fell for Martin because he was new and interesting, his life was rough and rugged unlike her own life. Her parents didn’t approve so she also never got support from them, financial or otherwise. She’s also scared of her aging beauty and knows her husband looks at young women, meanwhile young men look at her – but she just wants everyone to always know she came from a better place and a better life. She wants people to be jealous of her, and wants people to think/know she’s better than them.

So what happens? Ellen sleeps with another man. This other man, is Matthew Hooper.

Most of the characters of the movie are absolutely different than their book counterparts, which should already be clear above about the Brody’s. Hooper is definitely different. Whereas in the movie he’s a scrappy little nerd [and oceanographer] who works and sides with Brody on trying to save the town from Bruce/the shark – in his book counterpart he is a handsome, strapping young man still in college [and is an ichthyologist] who immediately is at odds with Brody and often sides with the local Amity government. In the movie they’re ecstatic to have each other for assistance, whereas in the book there’s immediately some kinda machismo face-off. In the book, Hooper is also the younger brother of a man that Ellen used to date, and tells her pretty up front once he realizes who she is that he used to be in love with her as a little boy when she dated his older brother, which also means that he is still apart of the life that Ellen longs to return to.

All this being said, it’s not exactly a ‘love’ triangle. The Brody’s do ultimately love each other, but Ellen and Hooper only have lust for each other. Ellen even admits to herself later that she used Hooper to reinvigorate the image of herself and to somehow reconnect to a part of her old self. Hooper does seem to have a bit of a crush on Ellen from the getgo, but it also is mentioned that during their sex it was weirdly robotic and he almost acted as though she wasn’t even there.

So why am I so far putting so much emphasis to talk about this love triangle? BECAUSE IT MAKES UP AT LEAST 50% OF THE BOOK. I will also go ahead and let you know that there are multiple chapters of Ellen starting up her plans for and achieving the affair with Hooper after they reunite. There is an entire chapter [possibly even more than one but I don’t even want to go back and look because of what I’m about to bring up] of them having lunch before going to a hotel and sleeping with each other, of them hot and heavy flirting with each other during said lunch. They start to talk about each other’s sexual fantasies to get each other all worked up.

Except when it’s Ellen’s turn to discuss what some of her sexual fantasies are, she explains that her fantasy is one that ‘most’ women fantasize about – to be raped. Just when I thought my eyeballs couldn’t bulge out of my head any more, Hooper then asks if her rape fantasy includes to be raped ‘by a big black man.’

I kid you not, I stopped at that point and kinda just ran through my apartment yelling ‘I’M VERY UNCOMFORTABLE’ until I got to my partner to freak out about what just happened in the book and then screamed into my pillow.

After being highly uncomfortable and getting past the ‘seduction and execution’ chapters, she pulls off the affair, but explains that as mentioned before, the sex is primal, but also weird and robotic. Apparently at one point she had to remind Hooper that she was beneath him. I really thought that if I had to sit through the discomfort of describing each other’s fantasies in detail that I as the reader was also going to be subjected to having to read about their actual sex, but thankfully the book just kinda cuts to after she’s home and taking a shower and her vague reflections of the experience. Also, it’s apparently perfectly normal for a woman to seduce/sleep with the younger brother of a man she had slept with in the past who is over 10 years her junior. Yeah sure, at the time of the book Hooper is a consenting adult, but it’s just weird.

I wish it had ended there though, but instead the rest of the book is Ellen and Hooper working as best they can to keep the affair a secret, which is pretty difficult when the man they’re hiding it from is technically a detective, the police chief of the entire town that’s small enough for everyone to know each other, and has the authority to investigate and interrogate who he pleases. Because he is technically overseeing the situation with the shark and Matthew Hooper is called in to assist with the shark, Brody is able to get information out of/about Hooper as he pleases. He had been suspicious of the connection between Hooper and Ellen from the beginning, so he picks up the discrepancies between their whereabouts on the day the affair happened pretty quickly and there’s a lot of even more rising tension between he and Hooper.

Besides the love/lust triangle going however, a significant portion of the story also surrounds Amity’s infrastructure and how it relies on being a summer vacation town to survive. It goes into that pretty deeply, much more than the movie did. It did drag on quite a bit in multiple sections, but it wasn’t necessarily boring, it honestly gave quite a bit more insight to why so many people were against closing the beaches, especially close to the 4th of July. This wouldn’t just be an ‘inconvenience’ to Amity. Summer and their beaches are their direct lifelines. The book even described that on good years when the Summers are poppin’ and a ton of money comes into the town, when it comes to the off-seasons, more than half of Amity’s population has to go on financial assistance because there’s no money income any other time of the year. It became quite clear that if Amity doesn’t succeed in the Summer, the residents are in dire trouble, including starving and being reduced to theft and other crimes to survive.

This trickles into the situation of Mayor Vaughn. His movie counterpart seems to actually be a fusion of characters, both the Mayor Larry Vaughn in the book and Amity newspaper editor Harry Meadows. Wheras in the movie the Mayor’s reasons for fighting Brody from closing the beach are all money-related with not much information other than greed. However in the book, we find out that the Mayor is in serious debt with a local NY mafia that he owes a lot of money to. The mafia is heavily threatening he and his wife, and the only way he’s able to get money to try and pay them back [and all their interest] is from Amity’s successful Summers. Like with Amity’s survival along with it’s residents, the situation with the Mayor is just is dire as to why he doesn’t want to close the beaches. The mafia situation also expands to Brody, when the mafia in turn threatens him for possibly cutting off a major money supply. They come to Brody’s house and in front of his children, grab the family’s pet cat and kill it in front of the kids and tell them to pass a certain phrase to their father. That phrase was told to Brody by Mayor Vaughn earlier in the day.

As for Harry Meadows, I actually really liked his character and wish that he hadn’t been diminished to just a few lines in the movie and barely a shadow of his character in the book. He’s the editor for the local newspaper as well as having ties to larger NY based papers and news stations. He’s the definition of a true neutral in a lot of ways. He is both an enemy and friend in a lot of cases and he has a lot of back and forth history with both Brody and the Mayor. He is actually the connection to Hooper/is the one that calls him in to assist. He both agrees with Brody about closing the beaches as well as disagrees because of what it’d mean for the town. He carefully and calculatingly sources his reasons for both and also keeps himself and how things would reflect against him always in the forefront. He is both enemy and ally, but most of all the main source of information for anyone in Amity.

Then there’s Quint. Quint is pretty much the same in the book as he is in the movie personality-wise but I did notice that his physical description is nothing like the casting of Richard Shaw of his character. I’d say the book definitely casts him way more of a Captain Ahab character once Bruce/Jaws shows him both how smart he is [Quint repeatedly calls sharks stupid/dull creatures throughout the book until taking on Jaws/Bruce] and attacks his boat/eats his bait without actually being caught. I appreciate more that in the movie they make him a survivor of the USS Indianapolis as a reason for his hatred of sharks vs him just thinking they’re unintelligent animals. There’s also no bonding scene between any of the men. Quint and Hooper are at odds due to age/experience battles and hard worker/spoiled rich kid. Hooper and Brody are at odds since the beginning and especially Brody’s suspicion of Hooper and his wife. Quint and Hooper mildly get along, but Quint gets annoyed at Brody’s inexperience and uselessness on the boat because he doesn’t understand anything nautical and he doesn’t know how to swim.

Other random note; Another main reason why Mayor Vaughn and Harry Meadows don’t want to close the beaches is because it would draw attention to the town – and it’s described multiple times that Amity had a serial rapist problem recently, and they didn’t want that getting dug up and scare people off. Additionally, the book really makes sure that we as the viewer, know that the serial rapist was a black man.

[squints eyes at Peter Benchley suspiciously]

Related, there’s also a scene that’s maybe two pages, of characters that are never known before and never references again – of a father putting his son to bed. The kid wants his dead to tell him a story about a shark, his dad refuses because of everything going on. Then the characters [primarily the little boy] discuss whether or not a shark would eat them because they’re black/if sharks eat black people.

[squints even harder at Benchley]

So what the hell do we even have left? Our sharky boi. Jaws, our book’s namesake. He’s sadly not in it all that much, but when he is, it’s definitely brutal. No punches are pulled when it comes to the description of gore and viscera of the victims that are eaten; but what I like the most is how the author writes from Bruce’s perspective and it’s very matter of fact, just like an animal that’s hungry and needing to eat. Not just because I’m partial, but I legitimately loved these parts. They’re so incredibly well-written and engaging. It’s also heavily hinted at multiple times that Jaws is more sentient than would be fathomed, to where hunting down Quint and his crew is a challenge and a sport to Bruce. Too bad you literally have to sift through an entire novel’s worth of wtf to get to those scenes. [Seriously, what was going on in the 70’s?] Also, the turnout of the Orca/ship’s fight with Jaws ends pretty differently. Different people are dead vs the movie besides Quint, who actually dies an ‘Ahab’s death’ that matches his obvious Ahab inspiration vs the gory way he dies in the movie.  [Also it’s never fully stated that Jaws dies in the end in the book… just implied]

Now lets discuss something a bit different, but still related. I know this review is already insanely long but I want to draw attention to this. Peter Benchley started as a man who was always fascinated by sharks and worked with marine biologists/other scientists to get his facts straight. That being said, despite the vast difference between book and movie, the movie caused an entirely new level of fear towards sharks, that never really went away and is still seen today. In the months after Jaws‘ release in theaters, people went out in the hundreds of thousands to kill sharks, just because. Somehow it wasn’t obvious that a shark the size of a baby megalodon didn’t actually exist/wasn’t found, yet the shark populations that were already suffering due to the rising popularity of shark fin soup, were so heavily culled that even to this day 45 years later, those populations have still yet to recover. Some shark species have now since gone extinct since the movie’s release, and many more are expected to go extinct in the next 20 years or so. All because of a single movie. Granted, many ‘maneating shark’ movies have come since then, and Shark Week‘s downwards spiral into bullshit have just continued the damage that Jaws did, but not to the same extent as the initial blow against shark populations that Jaws caused. A lot of people don’t realize this and I’ve read a lot of interviews over the years that Benchley felt terrible this was happening and spent the rest of his life  dedicated to shark conservation to try and undo what his creation ultimately helped collapse. So, you know. Let’s not be ignorant towards real-life sharks, eh? They’re amazing creatures.

Now, would I recommend the novel that started it all? If you’re a super fan of the movie or even just remotely curious after the clusterfuck of the review I just wrote, sure. Otherwise, unless there’s a novella that’s just the supercut of the parts with Bruce/Jaws, meh.
 



I give Jaws 2/5 rows of teeth [and only because of the parts with Bruce]

Rating:

“He’s chasing us?” said Brody
Quint nodded.
“Why? He can’t still think we’re food…”

“No. He means to make a fight of it.”

 
 


 

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