The Secret History of Twin Peaks
by Mark Frost
When I first heard of this book, I was under the impression that it would fill us in on what the residents of Twin Peaks had been up to for the 25 years following the second season finale. Then the title of the book was revealed, and I assumed it would be a history of the town, featuring tales about the private lives of its citizens. But the title is a lie. The Secret History of UFOs would have been more accurate.
So Mark Frost set fans up for disappointment. But why? My best guess is that he really wanted to write a book about UFOs and conspiracies, and he thought it would be fun to mesh it with the few bits of UFO lore that had made their way into Twin Peaks.
Unfortunately, adding slight hints of UFO lore to the show’s weird elements always felt like a misstep to me. The main reason being that plot-wise, UFOs are by now automatic clichés. They have become mundane, which is the opposite of what Twin Peaks strives for. Frost attempts to make this material relevant by turning the mayor’s brother (who barely appeared on the show) into a government agent who is very interested in UFOs. The contrivance is almost insulting.
Looking at it strictly as a book (as opposed to a Twin Peaks book), The Secret History of Twin Peaks is quite readable, though not always compelling. My eyes glazed over during UFO-focused chapters such as “Lights in the Sky”. A bunch of characters were introduced, and I couldn’t keep track of them, mostly because I didn’t care. It doesn’t help that Frost’s treatment of the UFO trope is largely unoriginal. The book starts off better than that. I found the first section, concerning Lewis and Clark, suitably mysterious.
In general, though, the passages that actually deal with the characters from the show are the most engaging. Frost weaves entertaining backstories for them (or perhaps he and Lynch had already figured those out when they first created the show). My interest peaked during the chapter titled “Notable Local Families”, because it features several new tidbits about the characters, including some whose fate was left hanging in the second season finale. It also lays out the Josie-Ben-Catherine-Andrew intrigue in a way that serves to clarify it.
The Twin Peaks sections aren’t perfect either, though. Frost is lazy at times, as you come to realize that too many characters’ lives reflect their ancestors’. Sheriff Truman’s father was a sheriff. Hank’s family engaged in criminal activity. Ben Horne’s father was a businessman of dubious morals. And so on.
It’s a shame that the least of the Twin Peaks books I’ve read was written by someone at the top of the Twin Peaks food chain.
- The book consists of a dossier assembled by “The Archivist” (whose identity is only revealed near the end) and analyzed by an FBI agent working for Gordon Cole. The handsome way it’s put together is actually the book’s best attribute.
- I liked little details, like the two instances the phrase “Northwest Passage” comes up. (That was the show’s original title.)
- Fans of the show’s low points will rejoice when they come upon the pine weasel reference.
- Deputy Hawk’s passage seems to be delivered in the wrong voice, with lots of swearing.
- It was always a pet peeve of mine that the town sign says the population is 51,201, when everything about the show suggests a town a tenth that size. It was gratifying for me when I recently learned that indeed, the population was originally supposed to be around five thousand, but the network thought people wouldn’t want to watch a show about a town that small, so they asked for the change. My delight was furthered when the book refers to a misprint on the sign.
- Error? The book says Norma’s mother died in 1984, but she turned up on the show, which took place several years later than that.
- The book makes a point of mentioning Harry’s brother, who is also a sheriff. A hint of what was to come in the show’s belated third season.