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Retro Reading: Jaws by Peter Benchley

Updated on June 21, 2021
Early cover art of the classic book
Early cover art of the classic book

Just When You Thought it was Safe to Read Again

I've never been a really huge fan of Jaws (the movie) but over the last few years I wanted to go back to the beginning where it all began- the book.

A few days before I saw the movie for the first time I read the book then realized that both the book and movie were different. I think this was the first time I'd ever read the book first then saw the movie. At least I was introduced to this process at a young age.

The book obviously differs vastly from the movie, so if you've never read the book, you may be disappointed (especially with the outcome).

It starts the same with Chrissie Watkins going for a moonlight swim and getting attacked (I'm going to refer to the shark as Bruce since that's what he's referred to in the behind the scenes making of the movie) and parts of her body washing up on shore.

After police chief Martin Brody realizes its a shark attack, he wants to close the beach, but upon the advice of Harry Meadows, the local newspaper editor, he agrees not to. Meadows reminds him of the current bad economy and by closing down the beach, Amity will suffer gravely. Brody surmises that Meadows is correct and Bruce has moved on.

Both are wrong when six year old Alex Kinter is attacked and three reporters from New York witnessed the attack. They report on it and Meadows then releases his story on both attacks.

Sure enough people start to stay away and the town begins to suffer. Enter Matt Hooper (a friend of Meadows') who has a lost connection to Brody's wife Ellen. It's revealed that she used to date Matt's older brother when Matt was about nine. The two begin to reminisce and while Ellen's suffering from depression she ends up having an affair with the younger man.

Brody suspects this, but has other things to worry about and is forced to keep the beach open for the Fourth of July. With no one swimming it looks like a grim holiday.

Of special note, the Brody's have three sons: Billy, Martin and Sean (only Sean's name makes the cut to the big screen while one of the elder son's becomes Michael). The names of Billy and Martin disappear like one of those sitcom kids who go to their room and are never heard from again.

While the tone of the book is intended to be dark it's also very depressing. I think Ellen's moodiness sets the tone and she's never quite happy. Before marrying Brody, she too was a wealthy summer resident and is shunned upon by her former friends since she married "a local" and life on Amity Island seems just as depressing.

You'll also notice in reading the book that Quint essentially has a much smaller role. He's not seen that much as compared to the movie.

If you think its safe to put a toe into the water this summer, then you may find it unsafe to read Jaws, but of course, its up to you.


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