Peter Benchley Benchley, Peter (Vol. 8) - Essay

Benchley, Peter (Vol. 8)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Benchley, Peter 1940–

An American novelist and children's writer, Benchley is the author of Jaws and The Deep. (See also CLC, Vol. 4, and Contemporary Authors, Vols 17-20, rev. ed.)

[Is] "The Deep" as exciting as "Jaws"? Well, no, of course it's not. For primitive thrills, a man-eating shark gobbling bathers off the summer beaches of Long Island beats sunken Bermudian treasure six ways to Sunday. "Jaws" was a once-in-a-career inspiration like Ira Levin's "Rosemary's Baby." But "The Deep" is a neat adventure novel. Benchley clearly loves underwater exploration. He conveys its alarms and beauty with joyous physical enthusiasm. He has come up with odd information about the oceanic transmutation of long-lost treasure, the verifications necessary to establish its authenticity and the power struggles among those who hoist it to the surface.

The human heavies in this novel—a sinister black revolutionary and a traitor concealed among the good guys—are a conventional lot, whose machinations pale beside the menace of slow-cruising sharks that laze overhead during the divers' ocean-floor maneuvers and the needle-toothed moray eels darting suddenly from the reef cavities in which the treasure rests. There is sufficient expertise and underwater chill in "The Deep" to make it satisfying beach-bag cargo. (p. 111)

Walter Clemons, "Chilly Waters," in Newsweek (copyright 1976 by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), May 10, 1976, pp. 109, 111.

If David and Gail Sanders were real people, rather than the protagonists of Peter Benchley's "The Deep," the odds are that they would buy the book, read it with a pleasure mitigated only by the degree to which they thought the purpose of reading novels to be moral or intellectual self-improvement, and then stand in line a year or so from now to see the movie. Author Benchley, whose first novel "Jaws" converted bathers in the relatively domesticated precincts of the Long Island seashore into wilderness adventurers and provoked shark sightings in Nebraska, may have done it again. While no one could predict a repeat of the remarkable commercial success of "Jaws," Benchley's novel shows that besides being a very competent writer of fictional entertainments he is what they call one shrewd cookie. (p. 8)

What one gets from Benchley, and this, I think, is the essence of his commercial genius, is escape. Instead of wallowing among the commonplaces of our culture's self-doubt, Sanders is lucky enough to have An Adventure. But for the mundane accidents of fate it might have been you or me. (pp. 8, 10)

With the exception of some minor motivational absurdities that one expects in this kind of novel, Benchley's plot is tightly constructed and yields the maximum in suspense. His style is for the most part unaffected and clear: it offends less often than it pleases. Many readers will feel improved by the constant flow of sheer information the book contains on such pertinent topics as the history, sociology and climate of Bermuda, the flora and fauna of the sea, skin diving, treasure hunting and underwater salvage. Benchley obviously knows what he is talking about and incorporates it smoothly into his story. Some Quality Lit fans are going to be annoyed by a minor rash of sententious dialogue about what it all means that occurs toward the end. Other readers will find some of the violence gratuitous; and still others will be made uneasy by the blackness of all the bad guys and the whiteness of the good ones except Treece. But as the book makes little of it so perhaps should we. Without going so far as to say that "The Deep" will amuse everyone equally well, one may confidently predict that the only readers who will not read it through to the end would never dream of picking it up at all. (p. 10)

Gene Lyons, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 16, 1976.