JACK FINNEY – The Body Snatchers. Dell First Edition #42, paperback original, 1955. First serialized in Collier’s, November 26 – December 24, 1954. Reprinted many times. Adapted into film four times: (1) as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956; Kevin McCarthy; directed by Don Siegel). (2) as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1974; Donald Sutherland; directed by PHilip Kaufman). (3) as Body Snatchers (1993; directed by Abel Ferrara). (4) as The Invasion (2007; Daniel Craig).

   The basis of a classic movie and many remakes, and a fine novel in its own right: vivid, suspenseful and full of implausibility about which the reader gives no damn.

   The story is too well-known to outline here, so I’ll just say Finney does a clever job of starting out small (patients of a small-town Doctor complain that there’s something funny about their friends and family) and building to the kind of edgy action and trickling suspense that made Sci-Fi fun in the old days. He also manages to make a 190-page book about Alien Invasion seem leisurely — but not slow-paced.

   But there’s a duality lurking around here, based on an off-hand bit mentioned in passing: Once the Pods have taken a human identity, they begin to lose interest in that person’s daily activities. (Naturally, being Pods, they’re more into spreading pod-dom or selling Amway or whatever.) So gutters need to be cleaned, the trash cans on Main Street don’t get emptied, storefront windows grow dusty, and the whole town takes on an air of seedy neglect.

   Well, in 1954, when Finney wrote the book, all this was actually happening: as the Suburb and the Strip Mall began to replace the Small Town, that little icon of Norman Rockwell America became every bit as seamy and run-down as Finney describes. And in a very real sense, The Body Snatchers sings a requiem for the cruel death of a cherished memory. There’s an oddly heart-rending chapter where the hero walks through his town, thinks of what it was and sees what it has become, that should strike home with anyone who grew up in pre-war America (or, like me, in the tawdry shadows of big empty department stores, dusty restaurants and faded movie palaces) and it adds a dimension of compelling nostalgia to an already fine thriller.

   The Body Snatchers deserves its rep as a taut thriller, but I shall treasure its melancholy edge long after the plot twists and chase scenes have passed from memory.