Book Review: The Girl of the Sea of Cortez

peter benchley the girl of the sea of cortez 1983 cover

Peter Benchley, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez. This is the 1983 Berkley edition. It’s a little ragged, but the pages are clean and readable. I picked it up at a thrift store for 25 cents.

The Girl of the Sea of Cortez. Benchley, Peter. New York, Berkley Books, 1983. 229 pages.

Review by Paul George

Peter Benchley will go down in history as the author of Jaws, an entertaining book adapted into an excellent film. More than forty years later, only two of Benchley’s books remain in print, the aforementioned Jaws and one of his lesser known novels, The Girl of the Sea of Cortez. After three thrillers, Benchley wrote Cortez as something of an counterbalance to Jaws.

Paloma is a 16-year-old girl living with her family on the coast of Baja California. She lives with her mother, Miranda, who wishes her would behave more like a young woman, cooking, cleaning, sewing and hanging wet laundry. However, Paloma is much more like her deceased father, Jobim. Daily she takes her boat to a section of the sea that is full of life. There she dives, explores, and, occasionally, finds a pearl. One day, she spots an injured manta ray and saves its life. In contrast, her brother, Jo, only sees the sea as an opportunity to fish and make money.

Paloma is concerned about over fishing and, due to her father, believes in conservation. But Jo only sees the sea as an object of exploitation. Eventually these two ideologies come into conflict.

If this sounds a bit like John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, it is inspired by the same story Steinbeck heard when he was in Baja California.

After Jaws – both the novel and the film – a media-induced hysteria not only made people unreasonably afraid of sharks but led to the killing of many sharks. Benchley became an advocate of the sharks, educating people about the ancient fish. Cortez seems to be an attempt to show that, while the sea can be dangerous, it is also a place of beauty. Sharks appear in the story at least twice. In both cases, they are presented as a potential danger, but also as creatures that are not that interested in humans.

Through Paloma’s adventures, Benchley clearly shows his love for the sea. It is a breezy read, appropriate for a summer read. There are a number of flashback sequences as Paloma remembers her father and what he taught her about the sea. One sequence, however, seems out of place. It feels like Benchley had an idea for a short story and stuck in in the middle of this novel. That’s a small complaint in an otherwise enjoyable read.

peter benchley the girl of the sea of cortez modern trade paperback

This is the current trade paperback edition of the novel.

This book does not have the adult language and sexuality present in Jaws. I would consider it a very good, almost excellent, selection of young adult readers. My son has trouble picking out books for school assignments because any book that has been adapted into a movie or television show cannot be read for credit (I think this is a stupid rule).

Benchley’s first three novels were adapted into film. Cortez was the first to not be adapted. After moving away from the thriller for this novel, Benchley would go back to the basics with Beast, about a giant Humboldt squid tormenting a fishing town. Beast followed the Jaws formula exactly.

The Girl of the Sea of Cortez is one of Benchley’s best novels. Peter Benchley clearly wanted to move away from the sea-thrillers that he was known for and created a fine novel, possibly his best, that deserves to be reintroduced to readers.

©  Paul George and The Reno Signal, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Bond Is Back! But Is He Relevant?

Daniel Craig returns as 007 in “Skyfall.” Picture © 2012 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

Skyfall, the latest James Bond film, does not start with the opening of the audience looking out of the barrel of a pistol while Bond turns and shoots the audience. Instead, it opens with a beautifully shot scene of Bond in the shadows and out of focus in the background. As he walks into the foreground, he steps into sharp focus.

And from an artistic standpoint, Skyfall has the best director, writers, cast and cinematography of any Bond film. But if that is true, why was I so dissatisfied with my experience?

After the opening shot, Bond goes on a classic pre-credit action sequence. He rides a motorcycle along Turkish roofs and drives a Caterpillar tractor on a moving train. This is great Bond stuff!

Then the whole film grinds to a glacially slow pace. There are action scenes along the way, but not many.

But the movie keeps asking the question: does the world still need James Bond? It is asked, literally, in the film. But the audience is being asked the same thing.

Didn’t they address that question in Casino Royale? They rebooted Bond in that movie, giving him a bit more backstory than he’s ever had in the films. Yet Skyfall spends so much time creating Bond’s backstory, I thought maybe it was another reboot!

Daniel Craig is the best Bond ever. He captures the toughness of the Bond in the books and does a great job bringing something resembling emotional depth to the character. He has some great moments in the film.

Judi Dench turn as M this time is the best she has been in any James Bond film. She plays M as a complex lady with emotions, albeit protected.

Javier Bardem radiates inspiration in his role as Silva, an MI6 agent gone rogue. He plays the character as outlandish and effeminate. The few scenes he has with Craig are great.

And, like Quantum of Solace (directed by Monster’s Ball director Marc Forster), the producers chose a director known for artistic ability rather than box office draw. Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road) directs a Bond film as concerned with its characters as it is for its action.

But, the film fails to explain why we need James Bond. The film’s message is clear: James Bond is not Jason Bourne and the producers are not going to try to change him (they tried that with Quantum of Solace and failed). Yet Bond seems out of touch with a society that no longer has Cold War monsters to fear.

Part of Silva’s plan is to release the identities of British operatives working undercover in Al Qaeda terrorist cells. As the names get released, agents die. That seems like a much better story, but the film only uses it as a reason for Bond to return to work.

And that’s the problem with Skyfall. A story about an agent in deep cover getting exposed and trying to survive is a great story. It would engage the audience and use real-world fear to maintain intensity. But Bond plays outside of the real danger zones. And so does Skyfall.

Review © Paul George, 2012.

The Shakespeare Animal Fund Keeps Focus on Animals

With less people donating and an increased demand for services due to the lagging economy, the Shakespeare Animal Fund has had to turn people in need away, leaving some Reno pet owners with no choice but to give their animals to a shelter. Now the nonprofit has the added burden of not having an office to base its operations.

“We recently had to shut down our office because the landowner, who originally provided the space free of charge, began asking for rent,” said charity founder Jennifer Webb.

Already having to turn people away, Webb decided that paying rent would drain more cash from benefits the charity offers the public.

“I try to make sure as much of the money people donate to the Shakespeare Animal Fund is used to help people and pets in the community,” Webb said.

An all-volunteer staff operates the charity, which pays for emergency veterinary expenses for the elderly, disabled and others suffering financial difficulty in the Reno area. It also provides dog and cat food to those who need it. In some cases, these local pets have not had food for days.

According to its Web site, each $100 the charity receives “can make the difference whether an animal can be saved.”

Anyone interested in donating to the Shakespeare Animal Fund can call (775) 342-7040 or visit its Web site at shakespeareanimalfund.org.

Video produced by Paul George for the Shakespeare Animal Fund and Journalism 207/208 at the University of Nevada, Reno.

©  Paul Anthony George and The Reno Signal, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Anthony George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.