I’m not entirely sure what Spielberg saw in this novel that made him think, “Yes, we’ll turn this into a summer blockbuster — with a brand new ending and about 2/3 of the content removed/changed”. That must have been his thought process, though, because besides the character’s names and the presence of a big ol’ shark, this book is wildly different from the movie. That being said — I love the movie, and the book was pretty damn good.
“Look, Chief, you can’t go off half-cocked looking for vengeance against a fish. That shark isn’t evil. It’s not a murderer. It’s just obeying its own instincts. Trying to get retribution against a fish is crazy.”
So yes, a great white is terrorizing a small town that depends on its usual 9,000 summer tourists to feed the 1,000 residents year-round. Three attacks happen right off the bat — although we only witness two — and Chief Brody makes the unpopular decision to close the beaches, despite pressure from the city council, mayor and town business owners to leave them open.
But then we move on — mostly to the idea of class wars. This book focuses mainly on the differences between the summer people and the town residents, with shark attack bookends. The class war is seen best in the Chief’s wife, who grew up as a summer person, then married the Chief (a townie) and can’t quite figure out how to reconcile the two. So she chooses to sleep with Matt Hooper, the younger brother of an old boyfriend and the man hired to study the shark (not to boff the chief’s wife).
Quint shows up about 5/6ths of the way through, after a fisherman hired to kill the shark disappears (oops). The ending gets a little wild, but nothing compared to the movie. But still — it’s a good story, a fast read (I read the whole thing on Friday night), and definitely worth your time.