Peter Benchley’s Jaws is well remembered as a bestselling novel, and even more so as a film directed by Stephen Spielberg. In the past few years this book has gained a new significance for many people, making it more than understandable that a press like Suntup would put out a delightful edition.
Jaws as a novel is something of a strange beast, as it spends far less time on the killer shark than it does with the people living in the community where it happens. There are corrupt businessmen and elected officials more concerned with profit than people’s lives, law enforcement ranging from frustrated to full on incompetent, and housewives lusting after younger men. Indeed most adult characters in this book are very easy to dislike, and most child characters get relatively little screen time, as it were.
There comes a moment when Brody’s wife, during her infidelity subplot, describes frequently fantasizing about being raped. While this is not an unheard-of fantasy, it is going to make more than a few readers uncomfortable, and in the process alienate them. The fact that the individual she is talking to keeps drawing further information about this fantasy out of her, and in quite a public area, makes it even more uncomfortable.
Still overall it is an interesting book to read, especially for someone who has experienced the film. While the parallels are certainly obvious, there is so much different about the book and so many more layers, interesting and not, that the experience of the book itself will draw the reader in.
As with most Suntup editions, the novel itself is only a small fraction of the interesting material. A series of gorgeous illustrations by one John Anthony Di Giovanni are the most obvious elements. There is, of course, a fair amount focusing on the shark and its victims, but this is not exclusive, and the human element is far from ignored. The results are consistently gorgeous, with a raw energy in many that feels appropriate to the fierce reputation this novel has acquired.
In addition to the beautiful illustrations, there is a wonderful new forward by Wendy Benchley, describing the conservation work her father would go on to do, as well as a number of the author’s notes and thoughts related to the book, down to some hilarious charting of the different potential titles. Also included is an interesting piece, written to David Brown, about the film adaptation and screenplay for Jaws. Ironically, it describes him objecting to the fact the shark was going to be depicted as strange for being a habitual maneater, while later in life the author would go on to find that aspect of the novel the most unrealistic. Indeed even on my copy there is an absolutely beautiful decorative touch in that the front cover has had a delightful bite taken out of it.
While I can hardly call Jaws a perfect novel, I can say that it is an interesting read and well worth the time of someone interested in genre work. I can also say that there has not to my knowledge and research been anywhere near as good a presentation of the book as is provided in this new edition, and to those interested in high-end copies one cannot recommend any other version.