Jaws, by Peter Benchley

My copy: 9780553204650

There’s something awful in me about reviewing a book I’d read only after watching the movie over a hundred times. For one thing, I was five years old and could quote every line (though I had the sense not to repeat Quint’s dialogue–I would’ve gotten my rear worn out by mom every day til High School). And though I was a pretty good reader at that age, there’s no way in hell they’d let me read something so complicated.

I spent my first decade-and-change completely unaware that there even was a book. So, when I was about 11 and I had to get “The Old Man and the Sea” for my English class summer reading, that’s when I found it.

I had mixed feelings over the book. I felt Benchley’d set up the story very well, in that you have the shark, the town, the waters, the people involved in the story, and I got to like and dislike the characters in turns, as most authors would intend. I have minimal complaints about characterization because when it comes down to it, two things supersede the characterization: the story itself, and the shark. I read the book for the shark. I read the book for the overwhelming, interesting, awesome story that spawned my favorite movie of all time.

I understand why most people (including me) say the book is better than the movie, because the book has more details, more characters, and gives you more of the story. Sadly, the book gave me more of the story I could care less about. I will admit it might’ve been partly because of my age when I first read it, but the sub-plots and side-stories of some of the characters (like Hooper and Ellen, the chief’s wife as the most glaring example) were like distractions, detours from the real story to come, as if they were written and just left in there because Benchley couldn’t bear to part with them. Characters need lives apart from the story, or at least a glimpse, but I felt it could’ve either been left out or been really overhauled and it would’ve done more to contribute.

The book got really good when the men finally went out and pursued the great beast, that’s when things picked up and you learn a lot about these men, and the suspense is just there. Kinda hard to beat three men on a rinky dinky boat fighting it out with a man-eater (hee hee).

I remember this book most because of how different the movie and the book were–obviously–and the ending. Sorry to say, readers: I HATED THE ENDING OF THE BOOK!!! And yes, I’d watched the Mythbusters debunk the intense ending from the film, and I won’t quibble over that. But even as crazy as it was, it was so damned satisfying compared to the book’s ending.mythbusters-jaws

I love books–they are my friends. I take care of them and wouldn’t dream of mistreating them. I still remember getting to those last ten pages. I was still in my chair, tense, eyes glued to the page.

I flipped pages, slowly reading, heart racing, grinning because of the tension. I was so enraptured with what was going on.

Three pages to go…I was still there, waiting…

Then, the last two pages–it was gone. I looked, blinked, and read the last two–twice.

Then I threw the book against the wall, got up and stomped on it until I nearly broke the spine.

I’ve never had a spaz attack and went after a defenseless book before, but I have to say, I was beyond pissed that after all that, the ending he wrote was…well…what it was. I won’t spoil it for you, and if you read it yourself, and know somebody who would be as pissed off as I was reading it, then you should buy them a copy as a practical joke and film their reaction.

I’m uncharacteristically mean around Christmas, I suppose, when it comes to 11th hour gift ideas.

Still, if you like comparing and contrasting book and film versions of stories, then have at it. You might be surprised to find yourself in the same position as me and enjoy the movie more. You might love the book more–who knows. I’d recommend it for anybody who wants to learn more about good suspense writing (in certain portions, especially in the last 1/3rd, he does very well with it).

I’m glad I didn’t destroy the book, because it meant I could still donate it. Definitely not a keeper for me, but it was a bestseller and oodles of others liked it. Still, I’ll console myself with the movie version and enjoy the hell out of that.


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