Jaws by Peter Benchley

Da dum…da dum…DA DUM DA DUM DA DUM DA DUM—CHOMP!

It’s shark week, y’all! Well…the fin tail end of it anyway, but perfect timing nonetheless for my review of Peter Benchley’s iconic monster hit thriller Jaws! I couldn’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched this movie—and it gets scarier with age. Is there anything more terrifying than a massive bloodthirsty shark that can chomp an unsuspecting human into pieces? Sometimes I wonder…all that time at Camp Surf in Imperial Beach, were there any sharks lurking below my feet as they dangled from my surf board? Scratch that thought—I don’t even want to know!

Given my love of horror and my deep-seated fear of sharks, I don’t know why it took me so long to read the book. The movie is just so darn good—a masterpiece even—so I suppose that was enough for me.

image of JawsWell, I hate to say it folks, but the movie is WAAAY better than the book. For the first time ever, I’m advising readers to skip the book altogether. I really thought I was in for a real treat after reading the first horrifying shock scene, but a few chapters later I was rooting for the shark to eat the whole miserable townsfolk of Amity.

Here’s where the movie vastly improved the book: character development. I loved the camaraderie between the stoic Sheriff Brody and the quirky Matt Hooper (all hail the comic genius that is Richard Dreyfuss!). Movie lovers and writers all know and love that iconic scene in the galley where they all showed off their manly scars over beers and laughs with the salty ship captain Clint. In terms of character development, that scene of male bonding is a true work of art. Some even say it’s one of the best movie moments of all time. Why? Because we all got to know the three shark slayers and didn’t want to see them become fish food.

As for the characters in the book…eh, not so much. In fact, I wouldn’t even bother throwing them all a life preserver. A shark’s gotta eat too, you know.  Out of all of them, Sheriff Brody wasn’t the worst, but he was still kind of whiny tool, and then there’s Hooper, a total home-wrecking scumbag with no sense of humor. Perhaps that’s another area where this book is solely lacking. There’s no humor, no salty fisherman wisecracks, no infectious laughter.  If there were, I must’ve missed the punchlines, maybe because they were at the expense of “homos” or “Jews” or “slutty women.” Because yeah, there’s a lot of bigotry and patriarchal overtones thrown into the mix…sigh.

And then there’s Hooper—my most favorite movie character—but a total home-wrecking scumbag in the book. I just about lost it when Clint revealed to Brody that he kills pregnant dolphins to use them and their unborn fetuses for chum—OMG WHAT?! I mean, these literary characters are downright deplorable. Don’t even get me started on Brody’s wife. A third of the book focused on her sleazy affair, which did nothing for the story except keep me hoping that Jaws would get a nice buffet of human body parts.

That said, I must admit that the opening chapter was absolutely horrifying. The way Peter Benchley described that doomed swimmer’s last moments in the open water from the shark’s perspective was nothing short of masterful! I just about lost it when she felt that initial bump and reached down to touch her foot only to feel warm blood spewing from the jagged stump. So if you do crack open this book, just read that opening scene. I promise it will give you the chill bumps and make you second guess that boogie boarding trip!

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