It is a really good thing that we stopped putting lead in gasoline.
Okay, wait, that is probably not the main way to start this summary, but it was my thought at reaching the end of this book.
"The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer" was written by Jennifer Lynch and published in 1990. It was a tie-in to Twin Peaks, which was then a very popular show, and thirty years later, still maintains cult popularity. The book is written as the diary of Laura Palmer, whose mysterious death is the impetuous of the show. I haven't actually seen Twin Peaks, despite decades of learning about it through cultural osmosis, so most everything in the book was new to me. As a non-initiate, reading this book absent of the larger mythology of Twin Peaks might make me a bad reviewer.
The diary begins on Laura's 12th birthday. She gets a pony. Her best friend and cousin come over for a slumber party. She likes her pet cat. She is an only child in what seems to be a middle-class family. The diary sometimes has an entry every day, but then will skip ahead a month or a year. After establishing that Laura Palmer is a typical girl, we then learn that she gets her period and discovers masturbation, and then she makes allusions to less pleasant parts of her life. By page 31, she has had her first joint, still at the age of 13. Followed a few days later by getting drunk and having a sexual encounter with several Canadian men about ten years older than her. By page 80 or so, she is 14 and taking cocaine regularly. And the allusions to frightening entities are explained more clearly: there is a demonic entity called BOB who has been sexually molesting her for years. Apparently, what BOB is, is explained more clearly in the wider Twin Peaks mythology. Absent those explanations in the book, I was never clear whether it was real, or a projection.
Most of the book is taken up with Laura Palmer as a very adult teenager, as a cocaine addict and prostitute. As a 15 year old, she manages to steal a kilogram of cocaine. How much was a kilogram of cocaine worth in 1987? Probably enough that a 15 year old girl couldn't casually put it in her dress and waltz out of a drug house. Teenagers tend to be torporous and timid, and I was not quite ever sold on Laura Palmer's transformation from poetry-writing, horse-riding preteen to supernaturally skilled drug and sex fiend teenager. When I was a not-particularly sheltered teenager, being a risky kid meant beer and weed in a friend's basement, not cocaine and valium-fueled orgies.
But of course, this is a book that highlights both the consequences of sexual abuse, and living in a town that is over some sort of reality vortex, so my complaints about "realism" are perhaps both not realistic, and ignoring the artistic license inherit in the book. Still, I found myself trying to piece together Laura's mental state. I grew up in the 1980s, also, and I remember every other minute seeing a PSA or Very Special Episode reminding us to Just Say No! or to Run and Tell an Adult and I wonder why alternatives to Laura's predicament are never mentioned, and how Laura remains so militantly unaware of her surroundings. Am I missing the point that instead of being frightened by the demonic, or saddened by the tragedy of sexual abuse, I spent most of the book waiting for a concerned teacher to maybe pick up on Laura's mood swings and/or nystagmus?
So, after reading this book, with all respect to David Lynch, Jennifer Lynch and Mark Frost, instead of feeling either frightened or sad, I was just trying to remember whether we were all that dumb in the 1980s, and being thankful that we stopped adding lead to gasoline.