There are novels that feel alive. There is no other way to describe it, because words like ‘fresh’ or ‘current’ are not enough. These novels are more than just a compelling plot or strong writing. They do more than tap into current events or debates. These novels offer access to something made animate on the page, and speak from a perspective that feels somehow deeply familiar and entirely unknown; Eva Crocker’s All I Ask is one such novel.
The novel opens as Stacey Power is woken up by several members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. Without warning or any real explanation, they search her home and overturn the contents of both her apartment and her life. The men confiscate her electronics and obliterate her sense of security, and for the rest of the novel, Stacey works to understand her life in the wake of this invasion. She goes to work, parties with friends, talks to her parents, deals with her roommate and considers past experiences and decisions. Through each interaction, we get access to more of Stacey, and her narrative offers refreshing depictions of friendship, love, sex, and desire that push against narrowly defined boundaries and experiences.
There is a consistent sense of tension and violation at the heart of the novel. Stacey discusses a variety of topics with her friends and family: the environmental issues and mistreatment of Indigenous communities affected by the Muskrat Falls hydro development, racial discrimination in Canada, and police brutality and corruption. She also reflects on her social circle’s experiences with sexual assault, homophobia, misogyny, and economic precarity. These discussions highlight how injustice can accumulate, and how trauma, guilt, and shame can leave indelible marks, like a soap scum on the surface of your skin.
Crucially, however, Stacey is also happy. Though much of her future feels uncertain, she barrels forward. She goes on dates and to screenings of RuPaul’s Drag Race, she auditions for a part in a local film, and she sips punch at her family’s annual Christmas party. The novel wavers between discomfort and desire, invasion and intimacy, dread and hope, deficiency and contentment, and Crocker effectively emphasizes that life is always a comingling of things. Never easy or definable or stable, Stacey’s sense of uncertainty is what makes her story so deeply relatable.
All of Crocker’s characters are well thought-out and carefully constructed. The women at the centre of the novel—Stacey, Viv, Holly, and Kris—are particularly compelling, and their different histories and outlooks offer snapshots of a vibrant, complicated, and contemporary St. John’s. Crocker is also adept at crafting simple yet poignant imagery. She aligns the wake of a ferry with the impacts of trauma, for example, or uses an old VHS tape as a multilayered metaphor for Stacey’s feelings of exposure. These evocative, almost grotesquely beautiful descriptions become a mainstay of the narrative, and startlingly snap the reader into the intimate spaces of Stacey’s life.
Though she may not feel it for much of the novel, Stacey is a powerful force. Tentative and often apologetic to a fault, she is propelled through St. John’s by the need for social interaction and various kinds of support. She is a good friend, and a bad friend. She is selfish and selfless. She is young, sexy, sad, gross, complicated, and exciting. Refreshing as it is tense and sensual as it is sad, All I Ask is a sharp and absorbing read, and most certainly a novel I will be thinking about for a long time to come.
All I Ask is being longlisted for the 2020 “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best Fiction.
- All I Ask by Eva Crocker
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: House of Anansi Press (Aug. 4 2020)
- Language: English
- ISBN-13: 978-1487006075
*All I Ask will be released this summer, but you may pre-order now at Amazon.ca. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2ywL2wS Thanks!
Gemma Marr (she/her) was born and raised in rural New Brunswick. After over a decade away, she is excited to return to the province to teach in the Department of Humanities and Languages at the University of New Brunswick Saint John. Her research focuses on the intersections of place, gender, and sexuality in Atlantic Canadian literature and culture. She is an avid reader and writer who enjoys books from a range of genres and styles.