BOOK CORNER: “JAWS” by Peter Benchley


Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    This book was written in the year 1974 by American writer Peter Benchley. It tells the story of a great white shark that preys upon a small resort town and the voyage and determination of three men trying to kill it. So it’s a superb adventure novel. The novel, emanates out of Benchley’s interest in shark attacks after he learned about the exploits of a shark fisherman Frank Mundus in 1964. Doubleday is the publisher of this book, who commissioned Benchley to write the novel in 1971, a period when he worked as a freelance journalist. The book was a great hit. It stayed in the bestseller list for 44 weeks. The novel was later adapted into an exciting movie, by film producers, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, at Universal Pictures.

    The story is set in Amity, a seaside resort town, on Long Island, New York. Before I enter the plot. Let me describe in brief, the main characters to you, because it’s a very fast moving story, where, one needs to be crystal clear about each character. There are eleven of them and their names and brief descriptions are as follows:

  1. Chrissie Watkins—she is the young lady tourist killed by the shark.
  2. Martin Brody—is the police chief of Long island.
  3. Larry Vaughan—is the mayor of the island.
  4. Harry Meadows—Editor of the local newspaper.
  5. Alex Kintner—a young boy killed by shark.
  6. Ben Gardner—Local fisherman.
  7. Leonard Hendricks—Deputy Police Chief.
  8. Matt Hooper—Marine Biologist and also the younger brother of David Hooper.
  9. Ellen—Brody’s wife.
  10. David Hooper—a man whom Ellen used to date earlier.
  11. Quint—a professional shark hunter.

    One night, a massive great white shark kills a young tourist named Chrissie Watkins while she skinny dips in the open waters. After finding the remains of her body washed up on the beach, the investigators realize she was attacked by a shark. Police chief Martin Brody orders closure of Amity beach. But the mayor Larry Vaughan and the town’s selectmen overrule him out of fear for damage to summer tourism, which happens to be the town’s main industry. So, with the connivance of Harry Meadows, the editor of the local newspaper, they hush up the attack.

    But a few days later, the shark kills a young boy named Alex Kintner and thereafter an old man not far from the shore. A local fisherman, Ben Gardner, is then sent by Amity’s authorities to kill the shark, but he too disappears in the water. Brody and his deputy Leonard Hendricks find Gardner’s boat anchored off-shore, empty but with large bite holes, one of which has a massive shark tooth stuck in it. Blaming himself for these deaths, Brody again tries to close the beaches, while Meadows this time investigates the Mayor’s business contacts, only to determine why he wants to keep the beaches open. Finally, Meadows, uncovers, the mayor’s links with the Mafia, who pressure Vaughan to keep the beaches open in order to protect the value of Amity’s real estate, in which the Mafia has invested a great deal of money. Meadows in the meanwhile recruits a marine biologist by the name of Matt Hooper from the Woods Hole Institute to advise them on how to deal with the shark.

    Meanwhile, Brody’s wife Ellen starts missing the affluent life she once had before marrying Brody and having children. She therefore starts a romantic relationship with Matt Hooper, the marine biologist who is also the younger brother of David Hooper, a man Ellen used to date earlier, and the two have a brief affair in a motel outside the town. Throughout the rest of the novel, Brody suspects Ellen and Matt to be having a relationship and is continuously haunted by these miserable thoughts.

    With the beaches still open, people pour into the town, hoping to glimpse the killer shark. Brody sets up patrols to track the fish. After a boy narrowly escapes another attack close to the shore. Brody this time closes the beaches and hires Quint, a professional shark hunter, to kill the shark. After which Brody, Quint and Hooper set out on Quint’s vessel, the name of which is Orca. But the trio are soon at odds with one another. Quint’s ways, anger Hooper, especially when he disembowels a blue shark, and then uses an illegally fished unborn baby dolphin for bait. All the while, Quint pokes fun at Hooper as a rich college boy when Hooper refuses to shoot at the beer cans with them. Brody and Hooper also argue, as Brody’s suspicion about Hooper’s possible affair with Ellen grows stronger; at one point, Brody unsuccessfully attempts to strangle Hooper.

    Their first two days at sea are unproductive, although they do come in contact with the shark by the end of the second day. Upon seeing it for the first time, Hooper estimates the animal to be at least twenty feet long. He is visibly excited and in awe at the size of it. Meanwhile Mayor Larry Vaughan arrives at Brody’s house before Brody returns home and informs Ellen that he and his wife are leaving Amity. But before he leaves, he tells Ellen that he always thought they would make a great couple. After he leaves, Ellen reflects that her life with Brody is much more fulfilling than any other life she might have had with Vaughan, and feels somewhat guilty for her prior thoughts of missing the life she had before marrying Brody.

    After seeing the size of the shark, on the third day Matt Hooper wants to bring along a shark-proof cage, to help take photos of it, and then to use it for killing it with a bang stick. Initially Quint refuses to bring the cage on board, even after Hooper’s offer of hundred dollars, considering it a suicidal idea, but he relents later after Hooper and Brody get into a big argument with him.

        Later that day, after several unsuccessful attempts by Quint to harpoon the shark, Hooper goes underwater and into the shark cage. Where, the shark attacks the cage, something Hooper did not expect it would do, and, after ramming the bars apart, kills and eats Hooper. In the meanwhile Brody informs Quint that the town can no longer afford to pay him to hunt the shark. But Quint no longer cares about the money and resolves to continue until he has killed it.

    When they return to sea the following day, the shark starts ramming the boat. Quint is able to harpoon it several times. The shark leaps out of the water and onto the stern of the Orca ripping a huge hole in the aft section of the boat thereby causing the boat to start sinking. Quint plunges another harpoon into the shark’s belly. With that it falls back into the water, but sadly Quint’s foot gets entangled in the rope of the harpoon, and he is dragged underwater to his death. Brody, now floating on a seat cushion, spots the shark swimming towards him and since he has no choice now he prepares for his death. However, just as the shark gets within a few feet of him, it succumbs to its many wounds, and rolls over in the water and dies before it can kill Brody. The deadly fish sinks down, and goes out of sight, dragging Quint’s still entangled body behind it. The lone survivor of the ordeal, Brody now paddles back to the shore on his makeshift float.

     It’s an excellent book both in terms of storyline, adventure, speed and even the narration. Where, the author has quite vividly described the action scenes in perfect vocabulary, which is not easy, on the contrary extremely painstaking. It leaves a spine chilling impact on you. You begin to hate sharks … at least for some time. I would give the book eight out of ten.

Synopsis by Kamlesh Tripathi



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