Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review: 'The Secret History of Twin Peaks'

One of the reasons we Twin Peaks freaks get so freaky about our favorite show is that it’s more than just a TV series. Twin Peaks is a feature film (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me). Twin Peaks is a menu (cherry pie and black-as-a-midnight-on-a-moonless-night coffee followed by a few doughnuts for dessert). Twin Peaks is a playlist (Angelo Badalamenti’s two TV soundtracks, his feature-film one, Julee Cruise’s gap-filling Floating into the Night). Twin Peaks is also a bibliography, and in this unusually high-quality book house of TV-tie-ins is Jennifer Lynch’s moving, shocking and insightful The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, Scott Frost’s hilarious and eerie The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes, and David Lynch, Richard Saul Wurman, and Mark Frost’s utterly wacky Welcome to Twin Peaks: Access Guide to the Town.

With next year’s deliriously anticipated Twin Peaks revival, it’s pretty likely we’ll get another Badalamenti soundtrack and more dinner and dessert recommendations (in fact, a Twin Peaks cookbook is in the pipeline). But first, there’s a new addition to our library. Series co-creator and author of numerous non-Twin Peaks books Mark Frost has just published a rather unconventional “novel” called The Secret History of Twin Peaks.

When Frost’s book was first announced last year, I assumed that it would mainly focus on filling in the massive time trench between the series’ final episode in 1991 and the 2017 revival. That’s not really what it does. Rather, this book is true to its name in relating the strange and wonderful town’s history stretching all the way back to Meriwether Lewis’s weird experiences when passing through Twin Peaks during his expedition with William Clark more than 200 years ago.

Frost formats his book as an FBI dossier assembled by a mysterious “archivist” for the perusal of a new special agent identified with the initials (hardy-har) TP, who will clearly be a key character in Season Three. The dossier comprises letters, FBI memos, newspaper articles and editorials, interviews, artifacts, and other materials that tell a not-totally-linear history of the town. Regardless of how Frost delivers his information, he handles it all with a masterful grasp of history (real and unreal), a keen ear for his characters’ voices, and a full grasp of the particular medium he is using at any given time.

Though there were many atmospheric elements of Twin Peaks, Frost is mostly concerned with its mystical side, which involves creepy owls, a mysterious race of giants, provocative cave paintings, secret societies, bizarre religions, magical rings, scientology, Satanism, and UFOs. The latter is somewhat surprising since I was always under the impression that Frost and (particularly) Lynch were not thrilled about the sci-fi direction Harley Peyton and Robert Engels took the series in its second season. Yet, there is a lot about UFOs in The Secret History. As a fan who never considered its sci-fi dalliances to be among the most fascinating of Twin Peaks, I could have used a lot less UFO conspiracy in The Secret History, though I’m assuming this will be integral to the TV revival. And though it establishes the town’s strange nature with a potent blend of historical details and creepy fiction, the Lewis and Clark passage goes on way too long.

Not surprisingly, The Secret History hits its peak when Frost begins folding familiar Twin Peaks residents into the tale. I don’t want to spoil any of the details, but I will say that we learn some fascinating new details that enrich the characters of Josie Packard, Major Briggs, Norma and Hank Jennings, Ed and Nadine Hurley, Dr. Jacoby, Carl Rodd, Ben Horne, Andrew Packard, Catherine Martell, The Log Lady, Lana Budding Milford, and Dwayne and Doug Milford, who truly dominates the story. This is particularly useful since a good deal of these characters will not be part of the revived series (sadly, many of the actors who portrayed them have died).

Although there are a couple of strange inconsistencies with the series as we now know it that I’m assuming will be explained on the revival, Frost really captures the creepy unease of his and Lynch’s series. The final pages dragged chills up my neck. One key Twin Peaks element that it could have used more of is humor, though there are subtle bits of it, and super fans will be rewarded with jokey references to the series’ original name and an aborted Frost/Lynch TV project. As a visual work, The Secret History of Twin Peaks delivers completely. This is an absolutely beautifully designed and illustrated book, and its tactile cover and pages are truly in the spirit of an exceptionally sensual show. More than ever, I can’t wait for it to come back to my TV next year so I can see how Twin Peaks ties in with its own Secret History.
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