When Twin Peaks first went on the air in the spring of 1990, the television series was both hailed and reviled in equal measure for its deep weirdness. Almost all of that weirdness was attributed to the show’s eccentric co-creator David Lynch, who was already famous for surreal cult movies like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. The show’s other creator, Mark Frost, was perceived by the media as “the normal one,” because he used to write for more standard television series like Hill Street Blues.
Well, some 25 years later, Frost, who has become best known as a novelist these past two decades with books like The List of 7, now has his own Twin Peaks opus he’s created without Lynch’s involvement. And let me tell you, it’s just as weird as anything that Lynch himself contributed to the series. We all might need to rethink this idea of Frost as “the normal one”, because thankfully, The Secret History of Twin Peaks proves he’s just a weird as Lynch, only in a totally different way. And this is very much a good thing.
The Secret History is a very oddly structured novel, if one can even call it a novel in the traditional sense. Essentially an epistolary novel, the book is presented as a dossier of various documents, like newspaper clippings, journal entries, book excerpts, classified FBI files, and event the menu of the Double R Diner. All of these documents, which go back some 200 years to the days of Lewis and Clark, have all been collected by someone only referred to only as the Archivist. Like the excellent “who killed Laura Palmer?” hook the show began with, the mystery of the identity of the elusive Archivist helps propel the narrative of the novel, because from the get go, we sense it’s someone Twin Peaks fans hold dear.
This dossier ends up finding its way into the hands of the FBI in the year 2016, and FBI Chief Gordon Cole (played by Lynch on the series) assigns an FBI agent, a woman who simply goes by the initials “T.P.” throughout the book, to go over everything with a fine tooth comb (I have a strong feeling that “T.P.” will be a character in the new season). She makes annotated side bars on almost all of the pages, adding her own thoughts and observations as to what she’s reading. This gives the book an added dimension, as this special agent is far more cynical than Dale Cooper was, much more Scully than Mulder. As she reads along with you, she can’t help seeing the patterns of weirdness that have to be more than coincidence.
Due to many of these documents being old, even handwritten on parchment, I had a difficult time reading much of the early parts of the book, so because of this, I ended up listening to the audio book as I read along. Not something I’d normally do, because I’m not five years old, but this resulted in the novel becoming an even richer, multimedia experience. Of course, it helped that the book was being expertly narrated by a talented group of actors, almost all of whom appeared on the TV series. Among these actors are Kyle MacLachlan, Robert Knepper, Amy Shiels, Annie Wersching, and Chris Mulkey, who gives closure to his character of Hank Jennings, who won’t be in the new season (we find out why in the book).
Mark Frost does something truly remarkable with The Secret History, as he weaves real world events into the history of the town (the book goes back to the first European settlers discovering the area where Twin Peaks would one day stand, and onward through to the events of the series finale). If there is really a central character in the novel, it is Douglas Milford, a very minor character on the show who only appears in two episodes, as the owner of the local newspaper. In fact, he’s part of a really goofy plot in the mid-point of the series, where he marries a much younger woman who “kills him with sex,” in what is considered one of the show’s lowest points.
But in this book, the character is given a second life, and a renewed importance to the fabric of the story, as we learn he knew a lot more about the strangeness at the core of the town than he ever let on. His life becomes entangled in events dating back to Roswell in 1947, and then crosses paths with all kinds of historical figures, like Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, occultist (and JPL founder) Jack Parsons, and even former President Richard Nixon.
The video above, from YouTube user LL Eon, is actually taken from an audio book excerpt, from a portion about Milford’s writings shortly before his death, where he pontificates about the weird goings on in Twin Peaks that extend far beyond the town. It illustrates that mystery is at the core of what make Twin Peaks resonate so much with fans. Mark Frost doesn’t pull a George Lucas on us and give us midi-chlorians to explain the Force, he simply adds more layers of mystery and reminds us that certain things are simply unknowable–the majesty is the mystery.
There are, however, several glaring continuity errors within the pages of the book. Glaring if you’re a hardcore fan of the TV show that is–if you only watched the show once, you might not even notice. But there are things in the book that on the surface seem sloppy. Things like diner owner Norma Jenning’s mother being said to have died in 1984, when the character was actually in three episodes of the show alive and well. Or the backstory of Big Ed and his wife Nadine being different, and several more.
Considering Mark Frost wrote many of the episodes he’s contradicting here himself, this can’t just be a case of forgetting, or even retconning. When a fan asked Frost about these continuity errors recently via Twitter, he simply said “all will be revealed”, which leads me to believe this was not an oversight, but all on purpose. And so the mystery continues. I think that season three will deal with an altered timeline, or parallel reality, and this is our first clue to that.
If you love Twin Peaks, there is no way I can’t recommend this book to you, although it really is made for the hardcore fan. And if you were looking for answers to mysteries laid out by the series finale, except for a few (Audrey lives!) you’ll probably be disappointed. But hey, we have a whole new season of the show coming for all that. Taken together with the excellent audio version, this is a multimedia experience no Twin Peaks fan can afford to ignore.
RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 BURRITOS
The Secret History of Twin Peaks is available at book stores everywhere.
Images: Flatiron Books