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The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost (2016)

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Well. It’s a hefty tome, and a beautiful physical object. Engaging, frequently a page-turner. Often funny, and pleasantly studded with familiar voices. But whatever I was hoping for, I didn’t really get it. 

The book is presented as a dossier about the town of Twin Peaks, including notes by an archivist and reproductions of original documents of various kinds. It is by Mark Frost, co-creator of the TV show with David Lynch. It tells the whole history of the town, from the days of the native peoples, right through to the events surrounding Laura Palmer’s murder. And it bugs me.

It isn’t the inconsistencies. Yes, it’s inconsistent with the TV series in lots of ways, but none of them are obvious, and consistency doesn’t matter anyway. (The three classic tie-in books were similarly inconsistent, and Fire Walk With Me was also inconsistent with the show, so just chalk it up to a collective dream and move along.)

It isn’t the Zelig/Forrest Gumpian appearances of varied historical personages – even L. Ron Hubbard! Frost’s project appears to be giving events in Twin Peaks greater significance against the backdrop of American life and its ongoing mysteries. It isn’t really what I’m looking for, but it is coherent with some of the threads from the show which made clear American authorities were aware of strangeness in the town, and the subplot around aliens and flying saucers is a major focus of the narrative. 

What bugs me is more the fact that, considering how big a canvas Frost is working with, it all feels so insular and referential (and deferential). The same names crop up over and over again through the town’s history. Almost everyone interesting in this lengthy book was either on screen, or directly related to someone on screen. With the opportunity to point at a wider canvas full of the unknown, Frost repeatedly loops back to the same established ground.

Now this isn’t exactly inconsistent with the TV show which kept the focus relatively tight, going to the same circle of characters over and over again – as a TV show must do, to keep its contracted cast busy on screen. However, the same pattern feels myopic and overdetermined here, like fan fiction. Consider by contrast Lynch’s film Fire Walk With Me, which obsessively included the vast majority of the characters from the TV show, but also featured many entirely new characters and situations in prominent roles. In fact, most of the TV characters were left on the cutting room floor. Even those earlier spin-off books filled out their world more than here. 

This focus on the TV characters creates some secondary problems. The urge to feature them was no doubt strong because of their distinctive, memorable personalities, but Frost has varied success transferring them to the page. In particular the writings of Deputy Hawk, Hank Jennings and Audrey Horne all feel off-kilter. If these characters were not quite so indelible, Frost might have got away with it.

Also, frustratingly, the book doesn’t provide many answers to the TV show’s many cliffhangers. (One notable exception is the reveal of who survived the large explosion in the final episode.) Despite a framing device that has the evidence of events from 1989 being discussed in 2016, very little is revealed beyond what we saw on screen. So if you’re hoping this will carry you across the decades and set you up for the third season of the show, you will be disappointed.
Mark Frost, and the publishers, have doggedly insisted that this book is a novel. I guess we might as well call it that, but it feels like its own sort of thing. While there is one central thread across the varied tales in the book, it doesn’t real feel like a narrative as such – there is little to root for in the central character’s journey, and what transitions he experiences are very superficial. The book tries too hard to make a dramatic mystery of the identity of the archivist, but the mystery is inert – knowing who it is changes nothing and adds nothing to the experience, it is just obfuscation for its own sake. Frost is a skilled storyteller (I am very fond of his novel List of Seven for example) but here the many interesting pieces of the book don’t come together into any richer whole. 

So do I recommend this book? There’s plenty to enjoy (the account of a scout camp featuring young versions of some minor characters is a creepy highlight) and it is a beautiful physical object. Still, I end up feeling quite ambivalent. While it is “canonical” (for whatever that is worth), I think it is best viewed as an entertaining homage rather than a new revelatory piece of the wider Twin Peaks puzzle. As a fun celebration of the show, it fits well alongside the rather silly Guide to Twin Peaks and the earnest but necessarily limited Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and Autobiography of Dale Cooper. It is nice to have clear accounts of tangled storylines such as the Josie Packard/Catherine Martel rivalry (inconsistencies notwithstanding). I am glad to have it on my shelf. But it is undeniably inessential. 

I guess my ultimate take is this: I wouldn’t expect David Lynch will have read this book before making the new series. I don’t think that would be a problem.

 So that’s it, then. One for the curious aficionado, not to be taken too seriously.

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