"White Shark", Peter Benchley, 1994, 0-312-95573-1, U$6.50/C$7.50
%A Peter Benchley
%C 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010
%I St. Martin's Press
%O U$6.50/C$7.50 212-674-5151 fax 800-288-2131
%P 340 p.
%T "White Shark"
Peter Benchley can do *way* better than this. I mean, look at "Jaws,"
which everybody was reading on the beach that summer since they were
afraid to go into the water because of possible shark attacks. Not,
perhaps, the Great American Novel, but it had a rather astonishing
sensitivity to good and evil for a modern work.
Let's look at the technology, first. Actually, there are too many
missing pieces in the technology, and biology, to say much for sure.
That part of the story seems to be complicated and convoluted beyond
all belief, and seems to indicate that Benchley changed his mind
several times about things without bothering to go back and revise the
narrative. (At one point it is quite clear that a certain process has
been taught and practiced, while not too far away it is unequivocally
stated that the procedure was never taught.)
I suppose I don't have too much difficulty with the idea that
cognition could be reduced to minimal levels while metabolism was
slowed or suspended. However, the disparity between the phenomenal
feats of strength and the lack of returning thought and memory seems
Speaking of suspended, this is one of the uncertain areas of the book.
The story seems to indicate that "Der Weisse Hai" is locked in a kind
of pandora's box for fifty years, opened only by the foolish
intervention of explorers. At the same time, there seems to be
evidence that the thing could have exited at any time. Neither
construction really makes much sense: a fifty year hibernation is
clearly excessive, and a failure to escape is inconsistent with the
Benchley also seems to be feeling a little guilty about his role in
portraying sharks as monsters of the deep, and gives us a rather
facile conservationist thread in this book.
The big technical blowout (literally) comes in the climax of the book.
I can quite believe that a rapid pressurization would cause
excruciating pain in the ears. However, any diver knows that
dissolving enough nitrogen in the tissues to create severe bends takes
hours, not seconds. This is why divers have decompression tables.
And explosive decompression just simply does not happen like that.
The technical problems are not the only ones with the work. Many
items in the book are introduced and then forgotten, giving the piece
a ragged feel. As noted before, the author seems to have changed his
mind on a number of issues and then seems to have felt that the
reading public simply didn't deserve the courtesy of a little cleanup.
One of the changes seems to have been the length of the book. The
setup takes a long time, and a number of important characters are
introduced way too late for a story of this size. Benchley appears to
have intended to write a novel and then, half way through, decided
that he was too bored and that a pulp paperback was good enough.
copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999 BKWHTSHK.RVW 991117
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Rescue those being led away to death,
hold back those being dragged to the slaughter.
Will you object, `But look, we did not know?'
Has he who weighs the heart no understanding,
He who scans your soul no knowledge? - Proverbs 24:11,12