Peter Benchley’s “Jaws”

A Must Read 300As I was looking for a new read at my local bookstore, I had a nice little internal dialogue, and decided on my next book. You know what I apparently felt like not doing this summer? Swimming. If this sounds familiar, you too have probably read (or at least seen) Peter Benchley’s Jaws. If you have been living under a rock for the last 30 odd years, Jaws follows Police Chief Martin Brody, of Amity, New York, as he tracks down a shark that has been terrorizing the tourist-driven community. Now, if you have seen the movie, you have the general idea of the plot progression, though there are certainly moments that the movie completely skipped. In particular, the book deals more with the psychological stresses that Brody faces, both in his personal relationships, and his determination to catch the shark. The character development is excellent, especially for a horror novel, and Benchley manages to keep the story from devolving into a series of gruesome shock-value scenes. Over the course of the story you will feel terrible for a few characters, and absolutely despise others: don’t expect to many cheerful dispositions among the crew of the Orca. This book’s greatest boon is similar to that of its film adaptation: nothing is taken to excess. There isn’t too much romantic subplot. There isn’t an overabundance of plot-twists, as horror novels often try and incorporate for “tension.” The scares are well-prepared and the priming for them is truly haunting. The shark feels as if it is stalking the reader, as well as the protagonist. While this is great from a technical aspect, there are a few issues that plague the work, though they thankfully stem more from our conditioning as readers than Benchley’s skill as a writer. If you have seen the movie then you won’t be terribly surprised throughout the novel. While there are enough differences to definitely make it worth a read, the effect will, obviously, be greater if you go in “cold turkey.” Perhaps the biggest struggle some will have when reading Jaws stems from the nature of contemporary horror. Today, horror novels and movies tend to be extremely explicit. If you find these slasher themes particularly frightening, then you may actually be bored by the pacing of Jaws. Ultimately, Jaws is a book I feel confident calling a true horror classic, though you receive from the experience what you put in. If you are a reader who enjoys the feeling of unease and paranoia that horror can instill at its finest, then look no further than Peter Benchley’s Jaws. If you can lose yourself in a book, this particular novel will almost certainly overshadow most contemporary horror novels, let alone horror films. I can at least assure you this: you’ll be keeping an eye to the ocean this summer.

Source: Jake Depew, Assistant Editor