This week we’re in conversation with author Eva Crocker. Her debut novel, All I Ask, (House of Anansi Press) was published to rave reviews last year and was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. The Star calls the novel “wickedly funny, sexy joyous ... with heart.”
Eva Crocker (she/her) is a writer and a PhD student at Concordia University where she is researching visual art in Newfoundland and Labrador. Her short story collection, Barrelling Forward, won the Alistair MacLeod Award for Short Fiction and the CAA Emerging Author’s Award.
Trevor Corkum: From what I understand, All I Ask was partly inspired by an event that happened to you personally. Can you talk more about that, and how the novel progressed from there?
Eva Crocker: I began working on this story in 2017 after a group of about ten police officers, all heavily armed men, forced entry into my home in St. John’s early one morning. They told me I was under arrest for transmission of child pornography and began searching the house.
I was home alone and terrified, I asked several times to use a phone and was told I wasn’t allowed. I wasn’t given a chance to get dressed and had to go alone to my bedroom with a young man wearing a gun. They wanted to collect all my electronics to comb through them for evidence of illegal activity.
Pretty shortly into the search they realized they’d made a mistake, the person they were looking for (whom I’d never met) hadn’t lived at my address in almost a year. It was a deeply disturbing experience but I am very aware of how much worse things probably would have gone for me if I wasn’t a white, cis-woman, if I didn’t speak English, if I had children there with me, if I were elderly.
All I Ask is a fictionalized account of the aftermath of that incident and it’s also a queer love story. It’s about privacy and sexuality, about having agency over what you get to reveal about yourself and how it feels to have that agency taken away.
TC: It’s a novel that grapples with so many critical themes—digital surveillance, police over-reach, the precarious job situation of young people and the devastation and corruption involved in projects like Muskrat Falls. Why was it important for you to tell this story?
EC: This book is very much about St. John's at particular moment, I wanted to explore how the crashing economy and the pervasive sense of doom around the failure of the Muskrat Falls hydro-electric dam has impacted people's interpersonal lives and relationship to institutions.
I wanted to capture this moment, about three years ago, when there were waves of protests erupting across the province. There was huge momentum behind the Indigenous-led resistance to the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam (a powerful movement that is ongoing). There were tons of rallies protesting new austerity measures introduced by the province’s Liberal government. Corruption within the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the widespread distrust of the institution of the police was being discussed in the media. It was a very dark time but also a time when it felt like change was possible. I hope readers come away with a sense of what life was like in Newfoundland at that time.
TC: The novel’s protagonist, Stacey Power, is a young theatre artist in St. John’s. As a reader, I felt I had a glimpse into a very intimate, interconnected world of young artists and activists in the city…a world that feels both comforting and sometimes claustrophobic. Can you talk more about how Newfoundland and Labrador—and St. John’s in particular—influences your work?
EC: Both comforting and claustrophobic is really great way to describe it.
From the time I was twelve until I was in my early twenties I spent basically every weekend at punk shows in St. John’s. As a young person it was thrilling to be in a space that was run by teenagers, where people were writing and performing loud, angry music. There were a lot of problems with that space that I didn’t come to understand until much later and I think both the positive and negative things about it shaped me in a big way. This book was the first time I wrote about that very insular world and it was exciting to be able to create a fictionalized version of it. A lot of it is made up though! I drew on my experience of growing up in St. John’s to write this book but is ultimately a fictional version of the city manipulated to fit the story I wanted to tell.
TC: Which writers and artists have been important to your own creative growth?
EC: Both my parents love making and talking about art, so I think that has been and continues to be a big influence on my practice. I also have a small writing group who’ve been meeting virtually once a week for a few months now, getting to read their work, receive feedback and have some time set aside each week to talk about writing has been so great.
TC: The novel comes on the heels of your critically acclaimed story collection, Barrelling Forward. One critic has compared you to Sally Rooney. How do you feel about the buzz surrounding the novel and to these kinds of comparisons?
EC: I feel really lucky whenever anyone reads my book and especially when someone takes the time to respond to it. I’m grateful that you read All I Ask so closely and came up with these thoughtful questions and I’m honoured to get to talk about it on 49th Shelf, which I love and read religiously.
Excerpt from All I Ask
They took my computer and phone so they could copy the contents. They called it a mirror image. They said it was the fastest way to prove I wasn’t the suspect and also I didn’t have a choice.
There were nudes, there was a picture, taken with the flash, of a pimple on the back of my neck—swollen and inflamed. They didn’t know when they’d get to it. The unit was really backed up. What was it called? Child Pornography? Digital Something? “The Unit.” He said there were only three or four guys in the Unit. For the whole province.
There were emails back and forth with my mother, scheduling visits with my grandmother in the hospital. Emails where I said things like, “I was going to go to kickboxing but I guess I can go in if no one else is available—lessons are prepaid.” There were rejection emails from casting directors. All the stupid things I’d Googled. Things I should have known. When did Newfoundland join Canada? What is Brexit? Are most oven dials Fahrenheit or Celsius? How much of that is in the mirror image? Reams of it.
These things take time. Couldn’t tell you. A judge in Gander had signed the warrant. What were they looking for? Illegal digital material. What does that mean? And what does “transmitted” mean? Transmitted from my address. Is it the same as seeded? It’s different than uploaded, I’ve seen “uploaded” in the paper. Footage of a slump-shouldered man with a windbreaker pulled over his head walking into the courtroom. A drawing in the newspaper of some sad-sack, evil piece of shit sitting beside the judge.
Who was combing through my hard drive? Picking through the digital traces, footsteps, shadows. Taking in all the un-deleted drafts, all the weird, unflattering angles. Three or four guys, taking their time.
Reprinted with permission of the author.
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