Mannie Murphy is a gender queer Portland native. This work of graphic nonfiction, told in the style of an illustrated diary, begins as an affectionate reminiscence of the author's 1990s teenage infatuation with the late actor River Phoenix but morphs an account of the city of Portland and state of Oregon's dark history of white nationalism.
Murphy succeeds in making this history lesson feel deeply personal by starting with something as relatable as a celebrity fixation, using the need to understand Phoenix’s ending as a way to gain a better understanding of the forces that shaped his environment ... [T]he form enriches Murphy’s personal connection to the material. The fogginess of the wet lines gives the visuals a dreamy quality, and the bleeding inks plus the handwriting creates a sense of spontaneity on the page. It establishes an unexpected tone for a story that is largely about the perseverance of white nationalist ideology across centuries, keeping Murphy’s point of view at the forefront while presenting a wide array of information that says a lot about our current political moment ... I Never Promised You A Rose Garden makes that past feel real with its accessible, emotionally driven storytelling.
There’s a lot to delve into, and Murphy makes some strong connections among Gus Van Sant’s films ... Reading occasionally like true crime and raising provocative questions about masculinity, power, and art, this unique graphic novel critically examines queer cinema and pokes holes in the rosy, naive view of the Pacific Northwest as a progressive stronghold. Hand to readers who love unconventional narrative styles and falling down deep rabbit holes of information.
Murphy’s book is an unrelenting litany of such horrors; I don’t think they say anything positive about their hometown ... they are entitled to their perspective, and they indict the political establishment as well as the arts underground—especially Van Sant—in a despair-filled cycle of drugs, racism and death ... The book’s visual style—a diary written in cursive on schoolchildren’s lined paper with images illustrated in wet blue ink washes—is stunning and just spot-on in conveying the gloomy menace of Murphy’s world. Though they won’t be feted by the local chamber of commerce, this is the work of an important new voice in the graphic storytelling medium.