Book Reviews, Novels

Mark Frost’s the Secret History of Twin Peaks (2016)

Part of me suspects the Secret History of Twin Peaks was written just for me. During the weeks I devoted to reading Mark Frost’s novel, I spent my days looking forward to digging comfortably into the couch and getting lost in the world of Twin Peaks again and again, of getting a preview of the show we’d all be watching come May. This book devours you, with its layers of mystery, layers of implication — it makes you simultaneously an accomplice to ‘the Archivist,’ dutifully collating Twin Peaks’ historical records and connecting supernatural dots, and an investigative FBI agent along T_____ P______, reviewing and studying the mysterious Archivist’s dossier.

Yes, the Secret History of Twin Peaks was written just for me, but that also makes it a hard tale to recommend. The audience is a niche one — Twin Peaks fans, and not just casual Twin Peaks fans, but die-hards; those who have been waiting with baited breath for 25 years to get answers creators Mark Frost and David Lynch left us with in ’92.

Frost’s epistolary structure and lack of a singular narrative easy or inviting. Instead of telling a focused story, the Secret History of Twin Peaks offers only suggestions and snippets — through hand-written letters, transcripts, historical photos, news and magazine articles, medical records, receipts, book excerpts (often real), commentary, and commentary-on-commentary. (Think Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, or, more recently, Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams’ S. The physical edition is recommended.) Nor is it hard to call Frost’s reliance on historical documents and writing — so much so that it’s nearly academic — exciting. No, this felt like my book because of convergences:

An early preview of the type of documents collected together to form the Archivist’s dossier.

The social history of the Pacific Northwest, of the timber industry, of environmentalism, of native oppression, of the small-town personalities that shaped our present-day Seattle and other cities — it’s all fascinating to me, and much of it a personal hobby.* The elaborate and often real history of the Pacific Northwest is interwoven with a century of ‘real’ conspiracy theories and modern mythology. Characters from the town of Twin Peaks step in and out of otherwise-genuine history books, adding a touch of conspiracy and sinister awareness to their television appearances.

We see a gap in the Lewis and Clark journals filled in with a spiritual visit to the Owl Cave not long before Lewis’ suspicious ‘suicide’; rumblings of a mysterious pale tribe suspected to be the descendants of the 12th-century traveler, Madoc; the Weyerhaeuser Company moves across the forests of the Pacific Northwest, inspiring the founding of lumber mills like the Packard Mill; the slow removal of the Nez Perce (and other tribes) from what will eventually become the Hanford Nuclear Site, featuring personalities like Liver-Eating Johnson and Chief Joseph; vulgar letters by pioneers and forgotten in Spokane’s Masonic Lodge, where the authors stumble upon Owl Cave and then vanish — the meaner of whom is named Bob; things get far more complicated once we hit the 20th century.

Douglas Milford, the brother of Dwayne Milford, long-time mayor of Twin Peaks, is at the center of almost every story. His appearance in the TV show was fleeting and seemingly benign: He appeared briefly as an old coot, a rapscallion who fell for the red-haired seductress Lana Budding. His real role is much broader, we learn. He spent his 20s in a drunken haze after an encounter with alien entities at Owl Cave. By 1947, however, he’s joined the Air Force, and is deepening an involvement in government cover-ups of alien conspiracy theories. Like the X-Files‘ Cigarette-Smoking Man, Douglas Milford seems to be at the center of every conspiracy theory connecting the dots between the government and aliens or supernatural. Roswell, Harold Dahl, Kenneth Arnold, Ray Palmer, Paul Lantz, Jack Parsons, Aleister Crowley, L. Ron Hubbard, Fred Crisman, Richard Nixon, Project Sign, Project Grudge, the Bohemian Grove, Majestic-12 — he seems connected to everything, including the events of the original series. Even Gordon Cole, the FBI Deputy Director played by David Lynch in the original series, has a close relationship with Douglas Milford.

A young Doug Milford’s Air Force volunteer paperwork during WWII.

While Douglas Milford is the primary focus of Mark Frost’s novel, we also get insight into most personalities from the show. Obnoxious anti-heroes like Hank Jennings have their backgrounds filled-in and explained: Once a star of the town, he was dragged own both by his abusive drunk of a father (who, of course, was tied to UFO conspiracies) and falling under manipulative villains like Jacques Renault. Nadine’s family history, excusing a couple plotholes, gives sanity to her character’s apparent insanity — and it’s a sad tale. The story of Margaret ‘Log Lady’ Lanterman, however, is the saddest of all. She’s not just another quirky David Lynch character, quirky for the sake of being quirky, but a woman rich in history — she has an advanced degree in forestry; she was an environmentalist long before Earth Day; she was married for just a single day; and was abducted within Owl Cave in 1947.

I felt unsatisfied with the fates of Andrew and Josie Packard on the show. Secret History expands on those two (and a few other neglected characters) extensively. Andrew Packard isn’t so much a conniving genius as he is a bumbling one. Josie Packard is a sociopathic monster, responsible for many triad-related murders in China (including her father’s). Her triad ties came up in the show, but for whatever reason they never stuck with me as defining character traits: I still get sucked into her innocent act every time.

Additionally, we learn more about Dale Cooper (who, it’s implied, ran into trouble between the finale and the present-day investigation), Dwayne Milford (a former scout leader), Thomas Eckhardt, Big Ed, Norma, Catherine and Pete Martell, Carl Rodd (abducted alongside the Log Lady in ’47), Audrey Horne, Ben Horne, the Bookhouse Boys, Tommy ‘Hawk’ Hill, Dr. Jacoby andhis brother Robert Jacoby (a local journalist who passed away in 1988). Not everyone, however, makes an appearance: We don’t learn much about ShellyJohnston, Leo Johnston, Bobby Briggs, Jacques Renault’s brothers, Donna Hayward, or the rest of the Horne family (Johnny, Sylvia, Jerry). Lucy Moran and Andy Brennan get about one joke in, each. James Hurley is briefly mentioned, just enough to state he’s as boring as he seemed in the show: He likes Charlotte’s Web.

A look at the favorite books of the Bookhouse Boys c. 1989. Can you guess whose is whose?

There are many stones left unturned, however, and answers stop roughly around the time of the original series finale. We get closure on the bomb blast that may or may not have killed certain characters, but not much beyond the year 1989 for any characters or events.

There are echoes of Dale Cooper in Special Agent T_____ P______, who fills the borders of the dossier with notes verifying information, adding their own research on top of the dossier, and a lot of obscure movie trivia and recommendations. (Making T.P. more similar to Special Agent Francis York Morgan from the 2010 game Deadly Premonition, himself modeled after Dale Cooper.) Word is T.P. will be either a fixture of the revived TV show in 2017, or in future novels — Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier is scheduled for October 2017.

For fans of Twin Peaks (and fans of puzzles), the Secret History is an absolute delight — but a tough one. Mark Frost shows a wild and careful degree of research to connect the history of Twin Peaks into every conspiracy to touch not just the Pacific Northwest, but American politics. The breath of dots connected to the show’s mythology is mindboggling, and feeling like I was in on the take made the return trip to Twin Peaks one of the most fun outings I’ve had this year.


N.B. This was written before the revival aired on May 21st, 2017. The first episode immediately answers some of the cliffhangers mentioned here.

  • I recommend the popular histories written by Murray Morgan (the Last Wilderness; Skid Road) and Bill Speidel (Sons of the Profits; Doc Maynard). Washington State has a very well-documented, entertaining history, and is lucky enough to have writers like above translate it all for public reading.

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