Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been filmed several times: first in 1956, again in 1978, once more in 1993 and most recently in 2007. It’s one of those rare archetypal plots that each generation remakes to reflect the issues of their particular era. Of all the novels I read to review, Jack Finney’s book was the oldest, originally published in 1954. At that time, the height of the Red Scare, the story of insidious suburban infiltration by Outsiders resonated with American readers. If your closest neighbors, friends or family members could be secret Commie spies, why not go one step further and consider them extraterrestrials bent on world domination?
The plot focuses on a small town doctor, Miles Bennell, and his high school sweetheart, Becky. Townspeople start coming to Dr. Bennell in droves, each convinced that their loved ones have been replaced by near-perfect clones. He refers them to a psychiatrist friend of his, certain he’s dealing with a rare case of mass hysteria. After discovering one of the “pod people” in another friend’s basement, Miles realizes the truth is far stranger. Over the next couple of days, the aliens take control of the town then instigate a hunting party to track down Miles and his allies. Miles and Becky run for their lives, eventually hatching a plan to defeat the oppressors.
This book has some issues, chief among them the characters themselves. Oftentimes they act on nothing more than lucky guesses or hunches (which miraculously always pay off), and they’re able to craft complex theories based on flimsy data. Most of the actions they take seem more out of authorial convenience than anything else. They don’t react the way “real” folks would in a given situation, which makes them feel like pod people from the first page. At one point the characters pack up and flee town . . . only to spend the night in a motel and head back home the next morning (?!).
I give Finney props for building suspense, especially in the second half of the book. He does a great job instilling a sense of claustrophobia and inevitability that the protagonists aren’t going to win. Because the aliens can only assimilate your body when you’re asleep, there’s no fighting against them. Everyone has to sleep sometime, which only adds to the impending doom.
One annoying habit I noticed was Finney’s apparent eye fetish. All his characters say things, “with happy eyes” or “with dancing eyes.” Always with the eyes, over and over. Find some new shtick, Finney.
I thought the ending was a tad expedient as well. After realizing humanity will put up a fight, the aliens leave Earth. They just leave. Float up into the sky and take their leave. What the hell? Even the total copout ending for War of the Worlds had some kind of rational, scientific basis. It wasn’t good, but at least it made sense.
This book is MEH