Author Eva Crocker’s debut novel, All I Ask, begins with the protagonist, 26-year-old Stacey, waking up to cops banging on her door. Stacey, still in her pyjamas, watches helplessly as police violently search her home and confiscate all of her electronics, telling her only that they’re looking for “illegal digital material.” In the opening scene of the novel, which has been longlisted for the Giller Prize, Crocker captures Stacey’s confusion and anxiety vividly—perhaps because she’s been in a nearly identical position herself.
In 2017, a group of about 10 police officers barged into Crocker’s St. John’s, N.L., apartment, saying she was under arrest for the transmission of child pornography. “I was alone in the house, and I was terrified,” she recalls. Crocker, then 27, asked several times to use a phone, but her requests were denied. The officers failed to read her her rights, as they are legally required to do. She wasn’t given a chance to get dressed, and was told she had to enter her bedroom alone with an officer who was carrying a gun.
Then, not long into the search, the police realized they’d made a mistake. They were looking for the previous tenant, who Crocker had never met and who had moved out months prior. Shortly after they realized their error, the cops unceremoniously left.
“I couldn’t shake the thought of how much worse things probably would have gone for me if I wasn’t white and cis. If English weren’t my first language. If I’d had children there with me,” Crocker says.
The incident got the author thinking about privacy: the ways we all cede it in a digital world, and the way queer folks in particular can become hyper-visible in public spaces—both in comfortable and uncomfortable ways.
She began to work on a play that fictionalized the aftermath of her encounter with the police. It was a new format for her; Crocker’s previous book, the much-lauded Barrelling Forward, was a collection of short stories. She ultimately decided she wanted to try immersing herself in a longer narrative and began to craft a novel. “It felt meditative to spend so much time in one specific universe,” Crocker says. “I was almost sad when I finished the book and I had to leave that place.”
While that universe resembles the one she inhabits in real life, it’s not a perfect replica. “When I’m writing, I draw on my own experiences, but they get swirled up in the same way a dream does,” she says. “Characters become a mesh of people I’ve met or heard about, with some completely fabricated elements thrown in.”
The final product was All I Ask—a funny, hot and heartfelt novel about settling into adulthood as a queer person in a heavy and complicated world.
Crocker set the novel in St. John’s deliberately. “I wanted to capture what it was like to live there in 2017,” she says. At the time, the province’s fragile economy was crashing and a number of social issues were making headlines—including the Inuit-led resistance to the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam.
There was also a profound distrust of police, she says. A number of Muskrat Falls protesters, many of whom were Indigenous, were arrested violently. The same year, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer Doug Snelgrove faced charges of sexual assault after a 21-year-old woman who had been drinking heavily asked him for a ride home while he was on duty. In the spring of 2017, he was acquitted.
All of these events form the backdrop to Stacey’s life as she and her friends struggle to get by. Despite her theatre degree, Stacey juggles shift work at a theatre bar and picks up occasional work voicing radio ads as she waits to hear the results of the police investigation. (They never tell her exactly what kind of “illegal digital material” they are searching for, but Stacey theorizes it might be child pornography.) She also meets Kris, a bike mechanic with whom she shares immediate chemistry. In the third act of the novel, after Stacey is cleared of any wrong-doing, their relationship starts to deepen.
With Kris and Stacey’s relationship, Crocker pays tribute to the scrappy, fierce queer community in Newfoundland. Her characters attend Drag Race parties, participate in impromptu porch photo shoots, buy their first strap-ons, fuck and fall for each other. Her prose has been likened to Sally Rooney’s, and it’s in these moments the comparison is most apt. The novel unfolds slowly, drifting through moments of fear, excitement, resistance, joy and healing.
“I had my own queer coming of age in Newfoundland,” Crocker says. “I learned so much from people in my community, and I’ve been reflecting on that a lot.”