It’s been more than forty years since Peter Benchley published Jaws, but I’d never read it until recently, when I stumbled across a battered copy in my father’s bookcase on Christmas Day, and in need of something to erase the hours between meals, I sat down on the couch and began turning its pages, and couldn’t stop.
The prose flits between shamelessly perfunctory and brilliantly melodramatic: in every respect it is written to be a binged blockbuster, devoured in one white-knuckled sitting, chock-full of pell-mell action, hairbreadth escapes, and excruciating deaths. Ostensibly Jaws is about a great white shark that preys upon the small resort town of Amity, and the three unlikely comrades who are determined to kill it. When Benchley focuses the shark — its own murderous frenzy and its human hunters — the book zips along at a great pace. But when Benchley shifts focus to the humans — an adulterous affair; Amity’s power brokers’ steadfast refusal to close the beach after each attack for fear of its impact on the small town’s economy — the book stutters. Not to a halt, exactly; but a noticeable slowdown of momentum, not helped by the novel’s total lack of likeable characters, which isn’t always a bad thing, but when they’re little more than archetypes, it helps to have somebody to root for. And in a book this size — a taut 275 pages — momentum is key.
Flawed, then; but still an enjoyable thriller, perfect for this time of year, when the days are long and the sun is hot,
Imprint: Pan Books
Publisher: Pan Macmillan