My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The back cover of the audio book teased that if you’d only seen the movie version of “Jaws” but had never read the book, you were missing out on a lot of interesting subplots and characters that didn’t make it into the final script.
After listening to the audio version of “Jaws,” I can see why some of the subplots and characters were dropped. Steven Spielberg was quoted as saying that when he read the book, he found himself rooting for the shark because none of the human characters had any redeeming qualities or characteristics. And he’s correct in that. Yes, there’s a huge body count of people eaten by sharks, but outside of two of them, pretty much everyone who gets feasted on deserved to die in some way or another.
That’s not to say that the book isn’t a good one. At times, Peter Benchley’s story is compelling, fascinating and really gripped my attention. Any time there’s discussion of the shark or the chase of the great white, the book works well. Where the book is a bit of a let down is in some of the characters, specifically Ellen Brody and Matt Hooper. Ellen’s background is filled in a bit and we find out that she comes from a well-to-do family and there are times she missed entry into the world of those who are well-off. Or, at least, better off than she and her husband, who is the sheriff of the small town of Amity. Enter Matt Hooper, who had a crush on Ellen when she dated his older brother a few years before and has been out pursuing the life of adventure as an ichthyologist.
The two begin a flirtation that turns into an affair. At least it’s a one afternoon affair, but Ellen eventually realizes she has it pretty good with Brody and decides to save her marriage. Of course, it helps if the guy you cheated with is eaten by said killer shark for being a dumb-ass. Kind of cuts down on your chances of succumbing to temptation again.
As I said, the characters in the story aren’t necessarily the most likeable. And I could have really done without the long conversation that takes place with Brody is relieving himself and then hearing Ellen’s thoughts on the nature of male urination. A bit TMI, there.
However, for all that, I can still see why the book was a bestseller and why someone thought it would make a great movie. By jettisoning the excesses, the movie hits at the heart of the man vs. nature theme. Those parts of the book work, as does the suspense of wondering if and when the shark will attack next. A sequence when a young swimmer takes a dare to swim out a hundred yards and the shark decides to pursue had me on the edge of my seat and really enjoying the story.
The other dropped plotline about the local mayor’s involvement with the mafia and a scam to lower and then drive up property values is intriguing enough but is the type of thing that works better on the printed page. Vaughn’s obsession with keeping the beach’s open makes a lot more sense here. (But again it’s been years since I’ve watched the movie, so that may still be there).
In the end, the book is entertaining and I don’t regret the time spent listening to it. I can see why it was the basis for one of the great summer movies of all time and, in many ways, I find myself yearning to find a copy of the film and watch it again.