cover image I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

Mannie Murphy. Fantagraphics, $24.99 (216p) ISBN 978-1-68396-410-0

Murphy’s piercing debut, originally self-published as zines, unfolds a disquieting narrative that opens with a rumination on the death of their childhood icon River Phoenix and progresses through a history of white supremacy in Portland, Ore. They document Phoenix’s rise to fame in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (set in Portland); the bisexual actor’s close, erotically charged bond with Keanu Reeves; and his 1993 death by overdose. Murphy also suggests Van Sant “fancied troubled boys” and ingratiated himself with Reeves, Phoenix, and the sex workers he incorporated into his films. They move on to tell the life story of another youth befriended and filmed by Van Sant: white supremacist Ken “Death” Mieske—and this leads into a history of Mieske’s role in the 1988 racial murder of Mulugeta Seraw and an exploration of the white nationalist roots of Oregon itself. The art is unnervingly intimate if not always technical masterpieces, and its often uncanny quality is appropriately unsettling. Murphy’s contemplation of the intersections of pop culture, exploitation, and racial politics digs ever deeper, and the epilogue delivers a chilling analysis of Geraldo Rivera’s infamous 1988 “Young Hatemongers” segment, which “became a catalyst for the ‘coming out’ of radical white supremacists.” Murphy’s elegaic treatment grants a sobering reflection on the depth and deadliness of American intolerance. (Mar.)