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Five Books to Read Now that Twin Peaks is Over

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Sue Dix, Sue Cavenagh and Joanna found this witty
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Fans had to wait to wait twenty-five years for Twin Peaks to return. Just as the original series took the reigning genre of the nineties—the soap opera—and not only subverted it but transmuted it, by David Lynch’s signature alchemical process, into something rich and strange, Twin Peaks: The Return took contemporary prestige television and turned it inside-out to create something wholly new.

Not that anyone is exactly sure what it was. The finale left us plenty to chew over. I mean, the show’s final line was ‘What year is it?’ Some reviewers have suggested that the show’s finale reframed the whole of Twin Peaks as the dream of a man in a coma (who presumably would want to know what year it is as he wakes up), while others have pointed out that Twin Peaks: The Return felt in some ways like a retrospective of Lynch’s own life and career. Meanwhile self-appointed Blue Rose investigators have combed through the original Twin Peaks and the prequel movie Fire Walk With Me to devise a theory of The Return’s ending: Agent Dale Cooper is the eternal white knight, locked forever in a struggle for the soul of Laura Palmer with a malevolent entity called Judy.

Speculating about the meanings of Twin Peaks, both literal and metaphorical, is a way for fans to prolong the pleasure of a show which, even in its most surreal and terrifying moments, always felt strangely comforting. In the end, though, no explanation of Cooper’s story will lay to rest the haunted feeling Twin Peaks left us with.

It’s better to go looking for that feeling elsewhere. Lately I’ve been picking up books which offer some of the things that made Twin Peaks so enchanting: dreamlike wanderings, intrusions of the supernatural into homely American realism, nuclear grandeur, dogged FBI agents and Tibetan method. So if you’re still suffering Twin Peaks withdrawal, here are five novels to put on your shelf next to your Twin Peaks Director’s Cut DVD.

Underworld

A winner of National Book Award, Underworld is Don DeLillo’s masterpiece. The critic Harold Bloom thought it ‘sublime,’ and as time goes on it’ll probably join the pantheon of Great American Novels.

I found myself thinking about Underworld quite a bit during Twin Peaks: The Return. DeLillo’s novel also jumps back and forth in time—from the 50s to the 90s—and identifies the proliferation of the nuclear arsenal as a moment when something not only sinister but somehow unnatural leaked into American history. The novel’s title explicitly links nuclear waste-storage facilities to Hades, the hellscape of Greek mythology. And if that weren’t enough, the FBI also features prominently in Underworld, in the person of J. Edgar Hoover himself.

Above all, though, it is the novel’s quality of vision that Twin Peaks reminded me of. Underworld, too, has the penetrating strangeness of fiction which is adjacent to reality but not entirely persuaded by it.

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American Indian Myths and Legends

The original Twin Peaks was ahead of its time when it gave us Deputy Hawk. Played by Native actor Michael Horse, Hawk was a fully-rounded Native American character who had to deal with bad jokes and lazy assumptions about his ancestry. In The Return, Hawk is the deputy sheriff of Twin Peaks and the man at the centre of the search for Agent Cooper.

Twin Peaks is also fascinated by Native American mythology. Possession by spirits, ‘lodges’ which are the homes of spiritual beings, and the otherworldly significance of particular features of the North American landscape all belong to the stories of the continent’s first inhabitants.

This wonderful collection of more than a hundred and fifty Native myths and folktales will take you straight to the source of some of Twin Peaks’ most powerful storytelling.

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Unconsoled, The

Ishiguro came to international fame with his novel The Remains of the Day, a poignant story about a butler in an English country house. His follow-up, The Unconsoled, frustrated some of his new fans.

It’s about a concert pianist who has just arrived in an unnamed European city. He has obligations to fulfil, but he can’t quite remember what they are, and in any case things keep cropping up—unexpected things, although once they’ve happened they seem perfectly natural…

It’s probably the most unnervingly accurate portrayal of a dreamlike state in literature. Lots of critics hated it, but they probably weren’t Twin Peaks fans either. if you were moved by Cooper’s wanderings in the Black Lodge and beyond, The Unconsoled is the novel for you.

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Jesus' Son

Twin Peaks: The Return had quite a bit to say about the rise of drug addiction and drug-related crime in rural areas of the United States. Of the new younger generation of Twin Peakers we met in The Return, not one was untouched by drug trafficking. Of course, altered states of consciousness are also something of an artistic medium for David Lynch.

They’re also an artistic medium for the writer Denis Johnson, who sadly died earlier this year. His story collection Jesus’s Son follows a multiply-addicted young man known only as ‘Fuckhead’ around the American Midwest. His highs and his lows render the towns, suburbs and alfalfa fields he wanders through strange, terrifying and beautiful. Like Lynch’s rural Washington, the Midwest of Jesus’ Son is a place far more vivid than reality.

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Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

Twin Peaks was frequently terrifying—The Return even more so. If I had to pick the moment that made my blood run coldest it would be the long shot of Sarah Palmer drinking silently on her sofa while her TV plays an endless loop of a boxing match. Why did that frighten me so much? I don’t know! That’s part of what freaked me out.

A similar mood of creeping terror pervades the stories of Thomas Ligotti. They’re subtle, even metaphysical, and reading them you might not notice you’re terrified until suddenly you feel like there’s someone else in the room... Like Lynch, Ligotti has carved out his own signature mode of American horror. But in Ligotti, there’s no Agent Cooper to come to your rescue.

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I'm a copywriter based in Dublin. Bookwitting about literary fiction, mostly.

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Sue Dix, Sue Cavenagh and Joanna found this witty
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