Auteur Theory: ‘The Autobiography of Dale Cooper’

While ‘Twin Peaks’ was still a hot property on television, tie-in merchandise such as the previously-reviewed ‘Secret Diary of Laura Palmer‘ did brisk business among fans. When producers wanted to publish a second, similar book, its subject was both obvious and inevitable. For this new entry in my ongoing David Lynch marathon, I’ve pulled my old copy of ‘The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes’ from the shelf, dusted it off, and given it another read.

In some ways, ‘Twin Peaks’ turned out to be a family affair. After David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer found success writing the Laura Palmer book, the show’s co-creator Mark Frost enlisted his brother Scott Frost to tackle this one.

In the series, the Agent Cooper character frequently dictates his notes on the murder investigation, his private thoughts and other random asides into a tape recorder. Most of these recordings are addressed to the never-seen “Diane,” who is presumably his secretary (though some fans prefer to believe that he named the tape recorder itself). This quirky character habit made an easy gimmick for the book, which is written as a series of transcriptions of recordings that Cooper made throughout his life.

The story picks up at age 13, when young Dale is given his first tape recorder as a gift and begins using it as a personal diary. We learn of his early life as an Eagle Scout and his fascination with solving neighborhood mysteries. As the book skims forward through the years, he talks about his tragic first love, his quest for personal enlightenment, and eventually joining the FBI. In the later sections, the novel draws connections to the TV series when Cooper is partnered with mentor Windom Earle, who would play a critical role in the show’s second season. Backstory that Cooper talks about in the show is fleshed out in more detail here. He also meets up with other fan-favorite characters including Albert Rosenfield, DEA agent Dennis Bryson and Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole. The book ends with Cooper being assigned the Laura Palmer case and heading for Twin Peaks.

Whereas the Laura Palmer diary focused on the horror and tragedy of that character’s life, this book explores more of the series’ famous offbeat humor. Dale’s personal observations and outlook on life are often very amusing, and the novel has some funny chapters detailing, for example, his attempt to go without sleep for several days or his experiment to learn how many cups of coffee he can drink without urinating. Frost does a pretty good job of replicating the character’s voice and skewed thought processes as we’ve come to know them in the show.

The book was published in 1991, during the show’s second season. Unfortunately, it has a major breach of continuity with the later ‘Fire Walk With Me’ prequel movie. The novel depicts Cooper investigating the Theresa Banks murder, whereas the film assigns that case to agent Chet Desmond. As such, the book cannot be considered part of the official ‘Twin Peaks’ canon. To be fair, this wasn’t Frost’s fault. The Banks murder was originally intended to be Cooper’s case. The movie was forced to change that storyline when Kyle MacLachlan initially refused to reprise his role. (MacLachlan eventually relented and joined the movie in a reduced capacity.)

Aside from that problem, the ‘Autobiography’ is an entertaining, brisk read. Most of Cooper’s entries are very short, so the 195 pages fly by pretty quickly. However, its emphasis on comedy makes for a less compelling story than the emotionally-harrowing Laura Palmer diary. That earlier book also had the benefit of allowing us into the mind of a character that existed only off-screen on the TV show. Because the series already provided us with plenty of time to get to know Cooper, this book is much less essential to understanding the character.

‘My Life, My Tapes’ is currently out of print, but used copies can still be obtained easily enough on the secondary market.

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  1. Shannon Nutt

    Well, Cooper DID investigate the Teresa Banks murder…only AFTER Chet disappeared.

    There was a audiobook released about the same time called “The Twin Peaks tapes of Dale Cooper” that included audio spoken on the show, as well as all-new audio created for its release…will you be reviewing that as well? It’s different from the book.

    • Josh Zyber

      Right, but the book depicts Cooper as the primary lead in the Banks case, and makes no mention of investigating Agent Desmond’s disappearance.

      As for the audiobook, check back here later this afternoon. πŸ™‚

      • Shannon Nutt

        Obviously, the FBI redacted that bit of information and Cooper wasn’t allowed to publish it. πŸ˜‰

        There’s also a Access Guide to Twin Peaks that was considered an “official” book…but that may have been it (I think you’ve covered all the others).

  2. Dom

    Re: the discontinuity of Cooper and Desmond in the Theresa Banks story. I’d argue that FWWM isn’t meant to be an exact tie-in to the show. Much is made of time loops and repetition of moments and dialogue in the series, so I see FWWM as a different ‘loop’ from the show.

    I mean, while Laura’s still alive, we have Cooper trapped in the Black Lodge ***after*** the events of the TV show watching Laura. If Cooper’s in the Lodge, then Dale Cooper’s replacement, Chester Desmond (initials the reverse of Dale Cooper,) is needed to make certain deductions until he is no longer necessary and vanishes.

    Bear in mind, all this also ties in with David Bowie’s character turning up from two years in the future, thereby changing history. So, I go on the assumption that Cooper investigated Theresa’s death first time round, before the series, fitting in with the book, then reality altered after Cooper’s possession by BOB.

    Incidentally, Annie pops up in FWWM, also leaving a reality changing message from the future that would likely impact any potential season three. The depiction of Laura’s death in the film is also at variance to the one in season two of the TV show. Lynch probably delights in the discontinuities anyway!!

    Of course, since Fringe claims to be set in the same universe as Twin Peaks, maybe the movie’s just set in the alt-universe! πŸ˜‰

    • Josh Zyber

      Interesting ideas, but not the way I’ve read the show and movie. (I’m not saying that your reading is invalid, just that it’s different from mine.)

      Time is not linear in the Black Lodge. Therefore, even though Cooper entered the Lodge at the end of Season 2, he’s already there when Laura enters. Once you’re in there, notions of time and space no longer apply. This is also why Cooper sometimes appears elderly when Laura meets him there, and why Laura dreams of receiving a message from Annie, who wouldn’t be brought to the Lodge by Windom Earle until much later.

      However, out in the real world, time does seem to flow in a normal linear fashion. Philip Jeffries (Bowie) doesn’t travel back from two years in the future. Gordon says that he’d been missing for two years. What happened while he was in the Lodge (or how long he perceived himself to be in there) is unknown, but outside the Lodge, time moved on without him just as it always had.

      With that said, you’ve given me some ideas to ponder. πŸ™‚

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