Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
You know, I really wanted to like this book. I was looking forward to it ever since I heard it was coming after the show, and especially given the high quality of The Secret History of Twin Peaks. I knew that the show’s return had surpassed any expectations I’d had by a mile, and surely the book must deliver more of that magical mojo, right?
It didn’t work out that way.
First things first: I think Frost is a great writer – I’ve read some of his non-TP fiction, which is a lot of fun -and I loved the first tie-in for this series. I appreciate that the expectation for this book was massive – I know my disappointment is the result of preconceptions of the work that are mine alone. That’s fine. I know a lot of TP fans will five-star this through the roof, and I’m pretty sure Frost isn’t going to be too phased by my criticisms. But I still can’t shake the feeling that the author was kind of tired of that little town in the Pacific Northwest when he came to be finishing this one off.
What the book presents is a series of more-or-less official dossiers, compiled by agent Tamara Preston as part of her gig as a Blue Rose taskforce member. There are canonical answers to some of the queries raised in the show, including the debate about whether Cooper prevented Laura’s murder in the final episode of The Return, and who that frog/bug girl was. There’s a lot of information about favourite characters, and several who do not receive much fill-in in the new series – Doctor Jacoby, the Hornes, James Hurley – are given potted histories, conveniently offered under the auspices of a sniffing-project instigated at Gordon Cole’s behest.
Some people who’ve had important roles throughout most of the show – Major Briggs, Philip Jeffries, Audrey Horne – are given their own folders, as is the town itself. There’s autopsy reports that throw shade at some of the dodgier moments of the second season, an explanation of the ruins of the Hayward family (more or less) and concrete definition of what illness it is that Harry’s suffering from.
The problem for me is that the tone doesn’t seem to fit with what we know of the characters. I found the first book was more or less a stickler for presenting articles in a voice that fit their provenance. Here, that’s ignored: Preston’s files are weirdly informal, and without the rigour you’d expect. They seem to not fit with her character as it’s been presented before.
The same is true of the autopsy report written by Albert: while it proudly shows his acerbic approach, something makes the reader think that he’d perhaps not put that bitchiness on the page. In casual conversation, absolutely. In black and white for perpetuity? I think Rosenfield’s character exhibits a love of protocol in extremis, and to have him breaking that seems a misstep.
You could argue Preston’s voice is the way it is because it’s an informal arrangement between her and Cole, but that doesn’t sit well with the official-file design of the work. It also doesn’t sit with how Preston was presented on the show: clipped and businesslike, a stereotypical just-the-facts Fed. There were hints of intimacy with Cole, and these are indeed continued here – there’s a familiarity revealed in the loose questioning of her Chief throughout – but something seems off.
Perhaps the strangest omission is that Gordon Cole doesn’t really feature in the work. Yes, the files are all aimed for him, but it seems odd that Cole – who it’s inferred knows much more than he ever lets on – is so absent in the work he’s masterminded.
(Interesting sidebar: when referencing Joudy, the malevolent puppet-master behind a lot of the TP lore, the dossier informs us that the deity is Sumerian. This is, of course, the same neck of the woods as Ghostbusters’ Gozer the Gozerian. I hope this means that Coop and Venkman are soul brothers.)
Something I found both irritating and intriguing, though, is the idea of performance, of being in a role that crops up now and again in the book. Sure, having a narrator with the initials TP is as on the nose as Angel Heart‘s Louis Cyphere, but it seems to go along with the parts of Lynch that buck against the success of Twin Peaks as an example of great TV. You know, the smashed-in TV at the start of Fire Walk With Me, and the resolute fuck you, you can never go home again that’s displayed in the unnerving, unsettling version of the show that was presented this year. I think in the book, Frost explores this idea a little: when we’ve come to the end of the files, Preston talks of feeling foggy, of the uncertain effects of being too close to the material. It reads as hackneyed if you’re thinking in terms of literature, but viewed as stage directions: exeunt, pursued by mist it makes a lot more sense. Later, in her final thoughts, she explicitly speaks of being a performer – being on stage, mystified, not knowing her part in the performance.
This kind of stuff – this uncertainty, this world of doppelgängers and intentionally-odd acting – is part, for me, of the appeal of Twin Peaks. I was disappointed there wasn’t more of a sense of this in the book.
Years ago, when I watched the original two series of Twin Peaks as a teenager, I dreamed of having a book that explained everything that went on: something to say what the creators had been thinking, to give a definitive viewpoint on what went on. Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier offers that, to a degree, and it turns out youthful me was wrong.
Perhaps Lynch’s approach – leaving canonical meaning hanging – may have been a better approach.
I really wanted to like this.