As far as tie-in books go I normally avoid them like the plague, but in the case of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer I was intrigued by what sounded like the promise of something darker than the show it was based on and the fact that it was written by the creator’s daughter. The author is Jennifer Lynch and it doesn’t take Dale Cooper to work out who her dad is, and boy does it show in her writing.
Far from being just a way to cash in on the series’ success, the book expands the mythology of the show in a meaningful way, though a word of warning, it’s not one for the easily offended or squeamish. If taboo subjects such as under-age sex, masturbation and periods are things likely to make you feel you uncomfortable then this probably isn’t the book for you. However, if you revel in the darker side of Twin Peaks and any David Lynch film then it doesn’t get much darker.
It starts on her 12th birthday and follows Laura’s life right up until the last days before her death. Bearing in mind that she’s a teenager for most of the book, and for the other part a pre-teen, she not only talks openly about the normal trials that a girl her age faces, but of more disturbing events, such as her rapid sexual awakening, frequent drug abuse, and molestation by BOB (Laura suggests in the book that the capitalised version of his name is a warning – Beware Of Bob). That being said, it stays true to the TV show and goes to places that it, and even the 18 rated movie that followed its cancellation, couldn’t.
Despite being the character, albeit the dead character, that made the show work so well initially, we learnt very little of Laura from Laura herself in the series. In the diary it really becomes apparent how dark and complex she was. At the start of the book she comes across as a fairly typical twelve year-old girl and the diary is a gift she received for her birthday along with Troy, her pony. Within the first few entries BOB is mentioned and he appears to be responsible for her earliest sexual experiences. At first, what she writes suggests that she’s unaware of the sexual nature of the strange dreams she has but does seem to know that they’re not right.
The way the early entries nail the right tone and style of writing, reading like they written by a twelve-year old with the style gradually maturing. This change occurs fairly naturally though there are often large gaps in the narrative where Laura won’t write anything for a long period of time which often indicates a significant maturing of her character. With the invasion of BOB into her mind halfway through, spilling out into conversations on the diary’s pages, the tone quickly grows darker. The maturation of the writing might seem accelerated but then Laura is growing up quicker than her peers — Donna is a good reference point in this respect — and by the time she turns sixteen she’s already seen Bobby shoot a man in a drug deal gone wrong in addition to her sexual exploits.
As anyone who has seen the series knows, Laura’s encounters with BOB in the real world actually take place with her possessed father. The book doesn’t mention outright that it was in fact Leland molesting his daughter and instead offers hints to what is really going on. Even without this being alluded to directly, BOB’s intrusion into Laura’s entries is menacing enough not only in its content but its style, as every time BOB appears his voice (and his name, if he’s mentioned) is represented by capitalised text. In an early appearance he describes himself as a “MAN WHO CAN SLIP MAYBE IN AND OUT OF YOU LIKE A WIND THAT GOES UNNOTICED”, just one of many examples that crystallises ideas put forward in the series.
Poetry often crept up throughout the show and it plays a part in the book as well, adding to the young-girls-diary-like feel. Laura’s poems are dark and mysterious, alluding to her inner turmoil, BOB, and the secrets that the woods hold. In addition to Laura’s verses she also inserts snippets of BOB’s chants such as; “The little bitch / Is awfully sorry / The little bitch / drinks you up” and “in this seed is death indeed,” which is much in the same vein as the “fire walk with me” incantation, if a little darker.
One of the major events mentioned in the TV show and expanded on in the book is the night Laura and Donna go skinny dipping with some boys they meet at the Book House. While it feels like it ties in quite naturally with the show it also illustrates the difference between what it’s OK to reveal in a TV series and what you can get away with in books. Laura’s description of this night is vivid and typical of most of her experiences in the book;
“It was so amazing. The way they felt when we got close under the water, soft and slippery, was like I was dreaming. I’d never felt anything so nice and so close to what I’d fantasized about. All of them had… hard… hard… I guess I’ll call them c-cks because “penis” sounds like a word you only read in Sex Ed books…”
At this point in the diary Laura is thirteen and is fooling around with men nine years older than her, and it’s a shocking now as it would have been 20 years ago. This isn’t a bad thing as the shock factor is part of what makes the book so good and really brings home how far Laura was from the good girl she pretended to be to her parents.
There’s not only conflict between Laura and Bob, which grows steadily throughout the book until the obvious conclusion, but between the two sides of Laura’s personality. Whiles she gradually grows to enjoy and revel in her sexual experiences there’s always a sense that she knows what she’s doing is wrong. At first she feels guilty but becomes consumed by her desires, despite being aware of the fact that she’s not the person she was. She even tries to resist, insisting she’ll be good but it’s all futile and seems unable to stop BOB’s control over her. In the entry after her first break from writing in the diary she describes her internal conflict;
“I trust no one, and only rarely myself. I struggle most mornings, afternoons and evenings with what is right and what is wrong. I do not understand if I am being punished for something I have done wrong, something I don’t remember or if this happens to everyone, and I am just too stupid to understand it.”
It’s this conflict that suggests there may have been some hope for redemption for Laura and ultimately the reader gets the sense she was a good person whose downfall was her inability to resist BOB.
Her cousin Maddy is present in the book, but interestingly she comes across as the more innocent of the two in the TV shows — in the diary, she’s one of the characters who leads Laura astray. Four years older than Laura, she appears to be kind of a role model who’s already quite experienced with boys and offers Laura her first cigarette. Donna also plays an important role in her life and although far from being pure is certainly a lot less mature than Laura. This gap in their personalities starts two widen affecting the friendship between the pair with Laura eventually becoming closer to Ronette Pulaski.
Other key relationships in the book will be familiar from the series. Obviously it details her relationship with Bobby, until he falls for Shelly, and her subsequent dealings with Leo and Jacques Renault. As well as her time with James it also touches on her lessons with Johnny Horne, whom she sees as a confidant as he doesn’t really understand what she tells him, and her sexual encounters with Harold Smith and Josie Packard.
The diary isn’t just about Laura though, and through her we get glimpses of Twin Peaks‘ deeper mythology and the history of the show’s main characters. It’s also full of the series’ trademarks and of all the familiar enigmatic symbols, owls are the one that appear frequently in the book.
Laura talks about hooting like an owl in her sleep and seems to have some kind of intuition about the owls she encounters in real life, including being able to divine that one is a male owl and is watching. Of course “the owls are not what they seem” is one of the show’s most famous lines and the book offers “sometimes owls can be big” as another statement from the Log Lady to ponder over.
An enigmatic symbol herself, the Log Lady has an important role in the book and though a peripheral character has a significant interaction with Laura, after Laura goes to meet her following signs she saw in a vision. The meeting occurs on November 10 1985 and is the kind of appearance from the Log Lady that would be welcome in any episode. It illustrates her role as one of the few people who has an idea of what is going on in Twin Peaks, and rather than find her weird Laura describes her as a nice and friendly person. It’s also the most substantial appearance by a peripheral Peaks character in the book, with most of the others relegated to small cameos or passing mentions.
In terms of enjoying it as a story there’s a definite character arc and it becomes more interesting towards the end with some genuinely shocking moments, and not just in the sense of Laura’s actions but emotionally as well. Although most readers will already know how the story ends, it’s learning more about the events that led up to her demise which is the really exciting part of this book. While the ripped out pages towards the end are a nice touch, they obviously contain Laura’s dream about Dale Cooper and it would have been good to seem them included (or at least the one about the Red Room dream) in some kind of appendix.
It’s not hard to understand why it was controversial at the time and why several book stores in the US banned it. In the context of the TV show it’s shocking at first but those who read it without seeing the series first couldn’t have known what to make of it. That being said, while it may not be a literary masterpiece as a companion to the show, it’s hard to imagine how it could have been better. Sure, it’s all about Laura and those closest to her, but it’s the little details about the town that really help deepen Twin Peaks’ mythology and give us a better understanding of a lot of its characters. Unlike LOST‘s Bad Twin novel The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer feels more authentically part of the show’s canon and belongs on the bookshelf (or in the e-reader) of any dedicated fan.
Where this book really succeeds is that it actually reads like it was written by Laura, and Jennifer Lynch did an incredible job of capturing her voice. If you can get past the uncomfortable feeling that you’re peering into a young girl’s personal diary filled with such shocking material, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer is an intriguing if sometimes uncomfortable read, but then that squirm factor is part of what makes David Lynch’s work so great. Overall though, it’s a thrilling ride and when the last page is turned you do get a feeling of knowing the world of Twin Peaks and its inhabitants much better.
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