(Not that) The Deep by Peter Benchley

I’m not sure whether I’ve actually read Jaws or if I only think I read it because I’ve seen the movie. I’m pretty sure I’ve read it, or if not, I have a fever dream memory of how it was underwhelming compared to the juggernaut that is JAWS THE MOVIE BY STEVEN SPIELBERG.

If you think about it, there’s a very narrow band of the earth suitable for human habitation. We start dying at about the top of Everest, only ten percent of the way to the edge of earth’s atmosphere, while we haven’t gone any deeper than 8 miles on land or in the ocean. There’s just not much of that sweet spot where we can do vital things like, you know, breathing.

I like underwater themes. Forget caves and underground labyrinths; the ocean is the true incarnation of claustrophobia. Just a tiny capsule of air keeps your lungs from becoming a pair of useless hydration bladders. It’s an alien planet compared to the known world of air and sunshine. It’s all shadows and refracted light and mysterious creatures, an underworld of inverted pressure and nightmares and dreams.

But I have read a couple of undersea adventures this year, and they both managed to turn the fascinating mystery of the ocean into an extremely dull and tedious “adventure.”

Look, I know 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a classic. But it’s a boring classic. Nemo is just another pedantic dullard with a grudge (Hello Captain Ahab) and if I wanted a list of every single goddamn fish in the ocean and their scientific names, I would read a marine biology textbook.

The Deep by Peter Benchley looked at least to be entertaining, if not as well regarded as 20,000 Leagues, but I am apparently an optimist at heart, fooled by a Jaws-ish book cover. I was hoping for deep sea shenanigans, for menacing creatures, for terror and suspense and claustrophobia, but what I got was some basic-bitch white couple scuba diving in Bermuda, a fair amount of racism, and several thousand capsules of morphine (maybe, because our protagonists never actually check on the yellow liquid inside the capsules they recover from some 16th century shipwreck; what if it’s lemonade, so the sailors didn’t get scurvy and such?*)

*I’m well aware that they didn’t figure out how to prevent scurvy until 1747 and didn’t officially adopt the practice until 1789.

The book mainly consists of the aforementioned couple and their omnipotent island guide going into the water, scooping up ampules/treasure, coming back up to the surface, going back down, coming back up. Sometimes they are visited by sea creatures or local gangsters, but there’s no true narrative thrust or driving desire behind their actions. The male protagonist wants to do something, but he sucks. The woman has no character arc. The guide has more personality, but he was always going to martyr himself to the cause.

The ending is also extremely strange. It’s like the last chapter got missed at the printer’s. It’s too bad they didn’t lose the whole thing.

WOOF OUT: There’s a dog named Charlotte. She barks, she rides boats, she’s just living her best life.

JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER

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Here’s the thing. I don’t think anyone goes deeper than like, 30 feet below the surface at any time in the novel. So if the perspectives are accurate in this picture, that boat could fit in your bathtub. 

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