Get Back in the Water: Great Reason to Revisit the Original Jaws
We've all seen the movie. We remember the music, the characters, the fake-looking (but still terrifying) shark. We remember lines like "You're gonna need a bigger boat" and "Smile, you son of a …" Yes, Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster is certainly memorable; so memorable, in fact, we've often forgotten (or, in some cases, never knew) that what came first and inspired the movie was Peter Benchley's novel of the same name -- Jaws.
The book's plot is familiar: One night, a young woman goes for a swim and never returns, killed by a shark. Police find her remains washed up, tangled in seaweed. Chief of police, Martin Brody, tries to close the beaches, but the mayor refuses. As he reminds Brody, the town of Amity's livelihood depends on summer vacationers; with the Fourth of July right around the corner, closing the beaches would mean "cutting [their] own throats." But then the shark kills again, and again, until even the mayor can no longer ignore the problem. Chief Brody hires a local fisherman to catch the shark, an ichthyologist named Matt Hooper who comes to provide his expert opinion -- and a patrol is carried out. But all these efforts fail to stop the shark, and Brody must turn to their last savior: a rough, Ahab-type fisherman named Quint. For the right price, and a deckhand or two, he's willing to kill the shark. And so, with Amity's future in the balance, together Quint, Hooper, and Brody set out on the epic hunt.
Some aspects are entirely unique to the novel. The characters are fleshed out, given detailed histories and new motivations. This is most obvious with Ellen Brody and Matt Hooper (an old flame's little brother) who, in an attempt to recapture their shared pasts, have an affair.
Admittedly, big fans of the movie will find this difficult to swallow. The characters aren't those they've come to know and adore. Brody isn't so noble, Hooper isn't so charming, Ellen isn't so loyal. It can be said, however, that these characters, at least in some flawed way, are more honest than their movie counterparts, more multidimensional. If you can get past these differences, though, and accept the novel as unique to itself, its own appealing identity inevitably becomes clear. Jaws is a taut novel that scares and thrills, delivering both insightful exposition and effective action -- a hidden treasure worth rediscovering.