July 19, 1982 12:00 PM

by Peter Benchley

In Jaws, Benchley borrowed the story of a mad obsession with a big white sea creature from Moby Dick. In 7770 Island, he got a bit of this and that from Treasure Island. He uses nothing but the best. In his new novel, he remembers the fable of Androcles and the lion. In Benchley’s watery version, an innocent young girl saves a giant manta ray, which then befriends her. The heroine lives in a village on the Gulf of California, and her late father has taught her all about the ocean, especially a secret area that teems with rich underwater life. The villain is the girl’s brother, a greedy fisherman. Would a girl in a poor village be allowed to spend all her days playing in the ocean? Would a brother try to kill his younger sister? Would a fish remember the girl who patched his wound and come to her rescue? Would any reader believe a girl flying through the air on the back of a manta ray? A fine writer might have made this fanciful claptrap work, but Benchley is a tedious explainer and knows how to embarrass himself: “And the manta took her up, flying with the swift grace of a bird seeking the sky. Soon she saw sunlight and blue crystal.” This novel reads as if it were written for—if not by—a 12-year-old girl. (Doubleday, $13.95)

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