My quintessential Fourth of July read on film or in print is Jaws by Peter Benchley. My memory of the book tells me that I read it during the summer, and maybe I actually did or maybe it's just that the book is about the Fourth of July festivities. It's also about businessmen and women in an island community who try to make a year’s worth of income over a short summer, about demons above and below the surface, about the initiation of a grown man into the hazards of the heart. Even though the book inspired the slaughter of sharks everywhere, a truth I bemoan, I still love this book and recommend you pick up a copy for your Fourth of July joy.
Windmill on Pasture Land near Edmond, OK (Photo by Al Griffin, 2013)
Chief Brody is a stranger in a strange land, a man who hates the water, a city-dweller and big city policeman, transported not by space craft, but by desire to live away from the chaos and brutality that characterize cities--at least in our fictional imaginations. He lands a job as Chief of Police in Amity, a place of friendship and minimal criminal behavior. Except, of course, the greedy corrupt streak coursing through the veins of men at Town Hall. They know how to win votes, and they intend to please the voters by being business-friendly even if a sentient, woman and boy-eating shark swims up and bites them in the ass.
So Brody must fight City Hall and the whole town, especially after the shark swallows that little boy whose mother spits in Brody’s face, an archetypal show of disrespect that Atticus Finch and countless other characters have endured. Brody must also fight his inner demons: the water, his fear of it, and his ignorance about how business trumps life in Amity. He enlists the help of Hooper, an elite, well-educated shark enthusiast who, in the book, seduces Brody’s wife, a fact that Quint seems to know but Brody does not. Thus, when Quint taunts Mrs. Brody, and she flees the pier, readers know what film-goers do not: Quint has seen into her unfaithful heart.
Quint is another foe for Brody. Not a proficient captain or even a good journeyman sailor, Brody ends up shoveling chum into the waters, trying to entice the ultimate demon, an oversized, hell-bent Great White, into the light. Quint hates sharks and belittles men who shirk sharks. As a survivor of the USS Indianapolis, Quint knew the naked fear of bobbing in shark-infested waters. He survived. Now steeled against the terrors of the sea, he seems to take delight in making Hooper, Brody, and Mrs. Brody wriggle like worms on hooks.
Brody, of course, beats them all. He mans up and tries his best to save Quint from himself. Even though he fails to save the crusty old man and witnesses his terrible end, Brody does not falter. He proves to be resourceful and gutsy, quickly devising a way to kill the shark as the boat sinks. Then he and Hooper swim to shore, determined to save themselves not only from the jaws of death but for a new life as friends in Amity (Cue the chorus in the filmed version.)
So Jaws is a great read, perfect for the beach or lake, read while the sun bakes and drives us to the water for a cool, quick dip, all the while trying not to think about what lies below. Jaws features heroes, villains, monsters, and all five types of conflict. It’s a story that moves quickly and closes with a promise that mankind will overcome.
Read Peter Benchley’s best-seller Jaws and/or watch the film. You won’t be sorry that you chose this book for your mid-summer read.
Get honest and tell the story about your first swim in deep, dark water after reading Jaws.