My goal is to eventually make my way through all of these must-read titles. These books have been around for so long and read by so many that another generic review from your average reader seems unnecessary. Instead, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of the experts have to say about the stories that paved the way for their own success… and how their perspective compares to my own reading experience. Today, I’m looking at Jack Finney’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
On a quiet fall evening in the small, peaceful town of Mill Valley, California, Dr. Miles Bennell discovered an insidious, horrifying plot. Silently, subtly, almost imperceptibly, alien life-forms were taking over the bodies and minds of his neighbors, his friends, his family, the woman he loved – the world as he knew it.
James Rollins claims that “the ingredients of a thriller… are not limited to any genre.” Whatever the setting, whatever the nature of the conflict, the fact is that any story has the potential to thrill.
This science fiction classic – originally published as simply The Body Snatchers – is a great example. It unfolds with a slow building sense of unease, just as any thriller might. It’s just that the source of all that tension is an alien invasion.
Rollins spends a good portion of his essay putting the story into historical context (the Red Scare, rising racial tensions), and you can read these things in Finney’s novel. I was thinking of them before I even read the ITW essay. But really… the idea of an enemy walking among us without our knowledge… I think that’s universal.
And it’s a fear that easily crosses over from science fiction into real life. That’s really where the tension comes from, and why it’s so effective. The actual science of it is a bit ridiculous now, nearly sixty years later. But the human aspect, “populating unremarkable towns with ordinary folk and challenging them with extraordinary horrors,” is as real as ever. It says, we both know it’s all crazy… but this guy thought it was crazy too, and it happened to him. It asks, as great stories do, what would you do?
I do think this is a great story, despite its occasional absurdity. And I think it’s worth noting that it didn’t seem at all absurd as I was reading, only as I thought about it afterwards. Looking back, it seems silly that I was as gripped as I was. But… I was.
Eighteen down, eighty-two to go…
Next month I’ll be reading Gayle Lynds’s Masquerade.