After a short 7-episode first season, there were enough people who had caught Twin Peaks fever. The season finale had an estimated 18.7m viewers, ranking the series in the top 25 Prime Time network series of the year, a feat considering it was going head to head with Cheers, CBS’ long term juggernaut.
The phrase on the tips of so many people’s tongues was “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” She was found dead in the first five minutes of the series, and, seven weeks later, nobody had the answer. Famously, David Lynch’s original plan was to never reveal Laura Palmer’s killer, having the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murderer function as the perpetual suspense machine for the run of the series, however long that may have been. At the end of the season, the series was pointing fingers at Leo Johnson, but purposefully left the show on a cliffhanger.
Two weeks before the two-hour season 2 premiere, Pocket Books released a spin-off novel, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. The key word in the title is “Secret,” as this diary is not the same diary that was found by Hawk in the pilot episode. This secret diary had not been mentioned in the course of the show up until that point, and was being held by a character who had not yet been introduced. This promised all-new information to the show, and was promised to present enough clues to figure out the true killer of Laura Palmer if you were a careful enough reader.
Written by 22-year-old Jennifer Lynch, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer is an epistolary bildungsroman following Laura Palmer from her 12th birthday on July 22, 1984 through the week preceding her murder in February 1990. But, this coming of age is of a girl who was molested from a very young age, and how that damage translated into emotional wreckage and troubled relationships, perpetuating its own cycle of trauma throughout the town. Writing from a first person perspective, Jennifer Lynch wrote with an evolving sentence structure, vocabulary and emotional complexity as Laura matured through her ages.
On her 12th birthday, Laura Palmer has already had a history of being molested. Right in her second entry, she adds an ominous P.S. saying that she hope Bob doesn’t come tonight. Through the years, she imagines that Bob comes in through her window and molests her in her bedroom, or sometimes takes her into the woods to do the deeds. Even though Bob steals her innocence and soul, bit by bit, Laura still fights the demonic damage, a transference of evil energy, in any way she can. Laura comes into her own through her self-discovery, from masturbating as a 12-year-old to drug-and-sex-fueled orgies with Leo and Jacques as an older rebellious teenager seeking salvation through self-empowered mind-numbing hedonism.
Jennifer Lynch’s take on Laura Palmer is frank, sad, disturbing, and complicated. There’s a sense of Laura yearning for a better life and trying to reconcile her late night nightmares with her idyllic daytime existence. This is a girl who gets a pony for her 12th birthday even as she worries about her molester coming in to rape her at night. She can’t tell people about her late night reality and has to fracture herself in order to sustain the image of a good girl while maintaining her sanity through hardcore rebellion.
The biggest development from the novel is that it exonerates Leo Johnson as a suspect. Yes, he’s still an asshole. He supplies her with coke and booze and she lets him play kinky sex games with her as a submissive. But, he’s not BOB. Because she willingly goes to Leo to get her kicks, its a self-empowering experience to her…at least to a point. Consider this passage where the demon of BOB comes back to haunt her attempts at self-reclamation.
I dreamed about BOB last night. Not a real nice dream at all, a little sick in my opinion because I have so much hatred for the way he spoiled me made me feel ugly and bad for wanting love or affection. He ruined all of my pride and self-esteem for the longest time. . . . I could only be pretty and sweet, because pretty and sweet was easy . . . good grades even better. No one wanted me . . . I wouldn’t even let on that I knew what sex was.
He did ruin me, didn’t he? I mean, in the dream he came to the window at Leo’s and saw me. It was a nastier scene in the dream than it was last night in reality. He kept showing this image of me again and again.
And then he was standing by the tree and he said, YOU WOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ABLE TO DO ANY OF THAT IF IT WEREN’T FOR ME.
BOB is an evil man trying to consume Laura’s soul. But, the true nature of BOB is not revealed in the novel. Many of the clues point to Benjamin Horne, who becomes Season 2’s Red Herring. He was the one who bought her the pony for her birthday. And, when she was 12, she wrote this passage that suggested he was grooming her for molestation, a price he would collect later at One Eyed Jacks.
Each time there is a party or a get-together at the Great Northern, Benjamin puts me on his lap or knee and sings to me softly in my ear. Sometimes I feel very bad for Audrey, because when she sees him singing to me, it must make her sad because she often runs from the room and doesn’t come back until her mother makes her. Other times I kind of feel good when she runs off. Like I am the center of attention, and that I am more special to him than his own daughter. I know that isn’t nice to say, but I’m just being honest.
And, as she quits working at One Eyed Jacks, she writes “P.S. I’m going to have to tell the world about Benjamin.” After she quits One Eyed Jacks, Blackie’s sister visits her on Halloween to talk about something, but that page has been ripped out of the diary, as BOB may have ripped out pages that specifically identified him. Several times, pages went missing just after she had been at the Hornes.
The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer isn’t exactly canon. There are minor changes from the television show, including that The Log Lady’s husband was a firefighter and not a lumber guy, and the dates of the novel have her survive to 1990 (matching up with Mr. Battis’ One Eyed Jacks recruitment book from Episode 6, though Ronnette was working there all the way back in 1988 in the novel). But, these are geeky nitpicky issues that ignore just how fantastic and harrowing the book is.
Twin Peaks abstracts Laura’s molestation through its impact on the various town folk. Fire Walk With Me forces the audience to witness the horror of Laura’s trauma. The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer is the most empathetic of the three works, allowing Laura to blossom and struggle as a person in the face of her horror. Jennifer takes the novel as a harrowing tragedy, giving Laura a self-awareness that humanizes her struggles. But, the sweetest part of the novel is that it allows Laura some more opportunities for joy and happiness.
Sure, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer is written by a girl steeped in LA culture. Nobody near Twin Peaks would go skinny dipping in late October, and they definitely would not go sit on a golf course for New Years Eve because that course would be covered in a couple feet of snow. These cultural nitpicks are, again, minor to the more universal truths within.
The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer climbed to number 4 on the New York Paperback Fiction Bestsellers list. It was devoured and analyzed, and a copy even made it online after it went out of print. It can still be read here. And, it should be.