Monday, October 3, 2011

Jaws by Peter Benchley

The town of Amity relies on the business of summer tourists coming to their public beaches. Without the rich tourists, the town dies. When a gigantic great white shark shows up on the coast and begins to pick off swimmers, the town is thrown into a moral dilemma of whether to close the beaches to protect the people or keep them open to have the town survive. Police chief Martin Brody finds himself at odds with the towns people and at odds with the hot shot oceanographer who has come to study the shark. The only answer seems to be to kill it, but how do you kill a creature that no one thought could grow so large and who might be an act of God?

Genre: thriller, throw-back

Rating: 4/5

Holds up to time: 3/5

I've started a new category of book reading I'm going to call "throw-backs", or books that are pretty old, but still available at my school library. I'm not doing this to bash on my library, but see how well certain books hold up to time to a modern reader. Some of these books are so old I'm having trouble finding cover art.

The book itself is considered of interest mainly because of the classic movie. There are a number of differences. First off, the book makes the shark the most interesting character. Brody and the other humans running around are fairly cardboard cut out, but the shark is something else entirely. I wouldn't say you root for him, but you're fascinated by him. He's a mindless eating machine who seems to not want to play be the rules. And there really does seem to be some sense of divine retribution to him. The towns people have made their living off of the "summer people" who come to their town and are more than a little willing to bend the truth, shade the details, and inevitably sacrifice some of them up in the interest of keeping the rest of them coming back. Maybe it's fitting that the shark appears to ruin the town in the end. The more Hooper or Quint try to understand "the fish", the less he seems to follow the mold and they both ultimately die for their arrogance.

So often I think the shark is called "Jaws", but the only thing he's ever really referred to is "the fish". Even his death is one of something that isn't really defeated, but is just at the end up his mission. He dies when everyone who didn't respect the rules of survival are dead. The book does hold up in the department of the shark working. He's still terrifying. Him ripping boats to pieces is still disturbing. The bloody deaths still have impact mainly because the shark isn't shown as evil, just doing what he does. The book doesn't hold up in the fact that there are drug references and plenty of 70s ambiance. There's also some casual racism that I don't think was part of the story. So this is a patchy throwback read that still has some interest.

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