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TWIN PEAKS Revisited: “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer”

Today’s Twin Peaks Revisited is going to be kind of different; while last week was the season one finale recap, there was another crucial piece of the Twin Peaks mystery released before season two ever started, but in book form: The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, written by David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer Lynch, then just 22 years old. After the first season of Twin Peaks hit pop culture like an atomic bomb, the summer between the season one and two saw a ton of merchandise and media exposure hit the market; there were the obligatory t-shirts and posters and coffee mugs of course, and the cast and creators were on the covers of everything from Rolling Stone to Time Magazine. 

But The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer was different from all the other products that came out that year. Sure, popular genre shows had had tie-in novels for decades already, Star Trek and Star Wars even had their own sections at the bookstore, but almost never did those tie-in novels truly tie-in to the overall plots of the shows and movies they were spinning off from. Star Trek on TV had zero problem contradicting everything and anything in the novels for instance. But The Secret Diary was meant to be an essential part of the overall Twin Peaks experience, and the idea for it came from series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost themselves.

At some point during the first season, Mark Frost and David Lynch called David’s daughter Jennifer into their offices, and sat her down, and told her she was one of “three air breathing mammals to know the identity of Laura’s killer.” With that knowledge, she was given the task of writing a book that would cover five years — Laura’s adolescence up until the time of her death…without explicitly giving away who the killer was, but leaving enough clues for fans to figure it out well before the show actually revealed it. The result was The Secret Diary, an instant best-seller that fans pored over for clues before the season two premiere.

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch, published September 15, 1990

The diary begins on Laura’s birthday, July 22nd, 1984. She begins writing in it the day she receives it as a gift. The opening passages read exactly like one would imagine a bright, articulate twelve year old would write — just enough bubbly effervescence to still be considered a child, but old enough now to know certain harsh truths about life. At twelve, Laura at the beginning of the book is at that age when she bemoans getting stuffed animals for her birthday, but yet is still thrilled that her daddy bought her a pony. She’s neither child nor adult yet, and the opening pages of the diary perfectly capture just what the awkward tween thing is like. Much of the early entries describe the typical things a kid that age would write about-her parents, Leland and Sarah, hanging out with her best friend on camping trips, etc.

As the entries continue, Laura begins to have the kind of thoughts and feelings that are typical for a girl her age — the experiments with cigarettes and alcohol, and she begins to have her first sexual thoughts. She writes a lot about her best friend Donna Hayward, and her cousin Maddy, both of whom she loves dearly but feels a distance from. She feels alienated from them because she is having thoughts about boys she thinks are “wrong”, and they are both in many ways still innocent little girls. Almost immediately however, Laura begins to have strange dreams about a creepy man with long hair, and they coincide with her own sexual awakening.

It’s around the age of 14 that the diary begins to take a truly darker turn, as Laura begins to admit that there is a man who’s been a threatening presence in her life since she was 12, a man she’d only hinted about in the diary’s pages previously. His name is BOB (the all caps is how Laura writes it, always), the long-haired man from her dream. Sometimes she finds him when wandering in the woods, other times he crawls into her window at night. BOB says terrible, humiliating and abusive things to her, things that make her feel awful about herself. Sexual abuse ensues, but at the same time she finds herself doing things to lure him back to her. “He says if I never begged him to come he’d stay away. But I never beg him to come….ever. All I want is for him to stay away. I wish him far away from here. I swear it,” she writes. And yet, as the diary continues Laura does anything but stay away from him. Her life becomes defined by BOB, whom she keeps as a secret from all those close to her.

The self-loathing BOB makes her feelings begin to translate into all of her relationships; she dates a local boy named Bobby Briggs, who she mentions earlier in the diary as a loudmouth trouble making kid who used to pull on her pigtails and burp in her face when they were younger. Now she realized this boy was doing all these things because he liked her and wanted her attention, and at 14 years old they begin going steady. But almost instantly Laura begins to take out her feelings of self-loathing BOB instilled in her on her boyfriend. When she takes his virginity, and he sweetly professes his love for her, Laura laughs at him, leaving him in tears. After years of abuse at the hands of BOB, she doesn’t know how to react to a genuine, honest emotion, and her reaction is to destroy that emotion in others. The jerkwad version of Bobby that we see in the television series is essentially born out of this moment.

As Laura gets older, she’s introduced by Bobby to a local trucker named Leo Johnson and his friend Jacques, who lure her into a world of drugs and sex parties, things she uses to self medicate in an effort to forget about BOB. The more she falls into drug use and, eventually, prostitution and pornography, the more Laura also does things to compensate for “being bad”– she begins to care for her father’s boss’ mentally disabled son, as well as tutoring local saw mill owner Josie Packard (who is Chinese) in English. She starts a Meals on Wheels program delivering meals to the elderly. As far as the town of Twin Peaks knows, she is “Saint Laura,” but none of these good deeds help her heal the brokenness she feels inside.

As things continue to progress from bad to worse in her life, and her addiction to drugs and rough sex grow and grow, BOB begins to seemingly take over for her as she writes in her diary. She’d begin writing in her diary AND THEN SUDDENLY BOB WOULD TAKE OVER WRITING FOR HER, AND BEGIN TELLING HER SHE’S WORTHLESS AND A HORRIBLE HUMAN BEING. (The all-caps writing is how we know it’s BOB writing through her, and differentiates it from Laura. It’s this way always throughout the book whenever BOB takes on the writing duties.) At this point, we begin to think that maybe BOB is nothing but a figment of Laura’s imagination, made worse by her use of cocaine and speed, despite the fact that all of Laura’s behavior is seemingly the result of intense sexual and psychological abuse inflicted on her by a real live person. But who is he? “Are you real, BOB?” Laura asks. “TO YOU, I AM THE ONLY REALITY THERE IS” he replies. “Who are you really?” She asks again. “I AM WHAT YOU FEAR I COULD BE.”

As Laura gets older, approaching sixteen and then seventeen, the drug use gets worse, and the public facade of the town’s pride and joy becomes more and more difficult for her to maintain. In one passage, Laura describes what it was like taking the famous homecoming queen picture. “I felt like the school and the town were mocking me by making me homecoming queen. How could they not see how I was being swallowed up by pain, and then asking me to smile again and again?”

As we get closer to the novel’s end. there are more and more “arguments” between BOB and Laura happening in the pages of her diary, and the BOB side of her continues to tell her horrible things about herself, how no matter how hard she tries, she will always be “dirty,” and uses every bit of derogatory language against women he can. Laura begins secretly dating a local boy named James Hurley, who she sees as pure and good, in a hope to find a last bit of salvation. She wants to love James, but she’s been programmed by her abuser to see love as weakness. She writes, “Falling in love is like holding a white flag out to your enemies and saying we give up! We’re in love. We surrender. Love is surrender. I can’t do that until I know for certain that BOB is really dead. Until there is a corpse I can kick as many times as I please. God, please let that day come soon.”

Laura tries to stay sober at the behest of her secret boyfriend James, and she also begins to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Jacoby, to get help. Despite these positive steps, she finally loses all hope when she says she’s finally discovered who and what BOB truly is; “I have to tell everyone, and make them believe.” As followers of the series know, she never gets the chance, as her body is found washed up on shore days later, in the pilot episode of the series, which is where the novel ends.


Writer Jennifer Lynch would go on to follow in her father’s footsteps as a director, and just two years later would direct Twin Peaks‘ own Audrey, Sherilyn Fenn, in the movie Boxing Helena. She’d also direct the films Surveillance and A Fall From Grace, as well as an upcoming episode of The Walking Dead, titled “Spend,” which airs on March 15th.

The book debuted at #4 on the New York Times bestseller list, and spent several weeks on the chart. Despite this, several bookstores refused to carry the novel due to its very explicit content.

Most major characters from the show are at least name dropped once, and we get insight into what Laura thinks about many of the principal characters on the series throughout the book. Also, three characters introduced in the second season, agoraphobic shut-in Harold Smith, as well as a mysterious old woman and her grandson who live next door to him, are introduced in the novel first before appearing on TV.

The theatrical prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which primarily deals with Laura Palmer’s last seven days alive, drew heavy inspiration from The Secret Diary, even thought the diary covers a much longer period in Laura’s life. In fact, actress Sheryl Lee, who plays Laura, constantly referenced the book for inspiration when shooting the movie.

Final Verdict

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer was extremely shocking to readers when it was released in 1990. While the show dealt with many sordid subject matters, the constraints of network television forbid them from going too deep into such dark waters. The novel, however, free from network constraints, is an extremely explicit portrayal of childhood sexual abuse, and the horrible psychological consequences that ensue for a survivor because of it. For that reason, it’s a hard book to recommend to everyone, despite being a key component in the overall Twin Peaks experience.

Jennifer Lynch writes an incredibly mature and confident book for someone who was only 22 at the time, and the novel still holds up today. Lynch makes us fall in love with the sweet, innocent little girl named Laura, and then breaks our hearts and she’s destroyed from the inside, long before her actual murder occurs. This is definitely not a book for the faint of heart or easily offended, but if you have the fortitude for it, then I highly recommend it.

Rating:4 out of 5 burritos 

4 burritos

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  1. Sharon says:

    I bought both “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer”  and “Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes” for $1.00 each at a discount book store in the mid-nineties. Still have them! 

    • Joel Bocko says:

      Good luck finding them for that today! I think the Coop one goes for over $100. Even the Access Guide, which I bought for about $5 online last summer, skyrocketed after the Showtime deal was announced.
      Thanks for covering the Diary, Eric.

  2. Art says:

    Next Week:  Agent Cooper’s book?

  3. Kevin says:

    I re-buy this used every few years, since the book has a tendency to fall apart. It isn’t anywhere near as ‘fun’ as the Dale Cooper book (my tapes my life) which is entertaining and informative with lots of lil B.O.B. and dark lodge related tidbits, but is a really worthwhile addition to the episodes that informs FWWM. 

  4. Hayley says:

    I had to import my copy over a decade ago. I had a friend borrow it and I never saw it again. 🙁

  5. Angela says:

    My Twin Peak obsessed self wrote a book report on “The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer” in ninth grade in the fall of 1990. Catholic school ninth grade! My teacher had no clue what I was writing about…