3 out of 5
Twin Peaks, to me, has always been a work of balances: Mark Frost’s conspiracy theories with David Lynch’s small-town Americana horrors; humor and surreality; artistry and commerciality. The original show was always a bit of a mess, I think, but at its most accessible and enduring when consistently striking the middle of those balances. With the 2017 “return,” while the show was scripted by both of the co-creators, I feel like the way it was executed and visualized, as exclusively directed by Lynch, made it more of a Lynch joint. Frost, meanwhile, wrote two books bookending the series, one as an outro and The Secret History of Twin Peaks as a lead-in, and this was confirmed (at least from a comment by Lynch) to be solely the author’s take on things, meaning we had two rather distinct TP vibes happening, very telling of each creators’ proclivities.
For The Secret History, that makes for a mostly fun, mostly interesting, mostly an aside document to the Peak experience, at its most enjoyable when it’s directly playing in the pool of characters and Peaks lore, and then rather waffling when it spends 100+ pages on UFOs and President Nixon. In this sense, it reminds me of a comic book series I floated in and out of: Martian Comics. Martian Comics started out with a pretty tight narrative, and then its author got (to me) distracted by trying to rope all of human history into their revisionist Earth / Mars history; the narrative thus was hi-jacked for a multiple issue deep dive on how major events in our timeline mapped to Mars’. Now switch that same framework to Twin Peaks: Frost starts us out speaking of Twin Peaks’ roots, and then as certain notable figures from that period become involved in larger conspiracy theories, he takes time out to go on a tour of Roswell and the like. It’s not boring, but it feels very far away from the show at that point, and a long time in coming when we finally wrap back around to names and locations we were perhaps expecting to read more about. This flow hiccup occurs twice, actually, which is another oddity: it seems like the book is proceeding through a somewhat linear timeline, but we rewind once – it goes from past to “present,” then jumps back to the past once more, adding to the wandering feeling created by drifting further away from Twin Peaks itself.
But the look and feel of the book is cool: done up as an epistolary experience, you’re reading an FBI agent’s assessment of a dossier concerning Twin Peak’s history, with mysteries surrounding not only who compiled the dossier, but also who the agent is. This makes for a lot of fun in-universe theorizing, and definitely gets the book off to a great start; lots of momentum that helps to carry through when it starts to go afield. Design wise, it’s very cool, and varied – newspaper clippings, handwritten notes, interspersed with “The Archivist’s” reviews of the material, and the the FBI Agent’s footnotes. It seems a bit overwhelming on a leaf-through, perhaps, but it flows really well once you’re actually reading it, not a runaround for the eyes to figure out what to read first, and never over-stylized such that the material is physically hard to read.
The title of the book could be said to be accurate, but it’s also somewhat winkily misleading: this is the secret history of the town, and not the show, and that accounts for why I referred to it as an aside. I was really excited for Twin Peaks: The Return, and bought this book within the throes of that excitement. But not only are the experiences very separate – very Lynch vs. Frosty – Frost’s tome is strictly additional lore, like the documents you might pick up in a video game which provide interesting, but perhaps unnecessary tidbits. You’ll discover some excellent stories within, just, generally speaking, nothing that unlocks any grandly new understanding. The passionate construction of the project accounts for a lot, though, and despite its meandering aspects, it’s solidly entertaining as a standalone experience.