Who among us can honestly say they’d be free of fear or embarrassment if their phone and laptop were seized and scrutinized by law enforcement? Such is the anxiety-plagued situation of Stacey Power, the protagonist of Eva Crocker’s debut novel, a work that grapples with issues of privacy, relationships, and the abuse of authority in our digital age. After her much-lauded 2017 short story collection, Barrelling Forward, which won both the Canadian Authors Association’s Emerging Writer Award and the Alistair MacLeod Prize for Short Fiction, Crocker has chosen to take a deeper dive into the world of characters who can be described as young and broke, queer and woke.
Stacey is an aspiring actor who works “a scrap of a job” as bartender and box-office attendant at a community theatre, supplemented by a “spattering of cheques” she receives from doing radio ads and “Standardized Patient work” for doctors in training. When not working, Stacey spends her time socializing with her best friend, Viv, and her love interest, Kris, an aspiring poet who works at a bicycle repair shop.
Readers are thrown into Stacey’s precarious situation from the novel’s very first line: “They took my computer and phone so they could copy the contents.” While the police examine her devices for “illegal digital material,” we follow Stacey as she juggles multiple jobs, a dating life, and the furtive threat of criminal prosecution, all without the taken-for-granted benefit of a cell phone. Throughout the narrative, cops are presented as agents of intimidation wielding absolute power. This notion is driven home quite effectively when Stacey is summoned to the police station to discuss her case with a high-ranking officer: “I was alone in a windowless room with a strange man who had probably seen naked photos of me, who could order me to do whatever he wanted.”
There are also two poignant images that recur, reinforcing Stacey’s anxiety: a drone she spots hovering over the pizza shop near her apartment, and a broken VHS tape tangled in the branches of a tree just outside her bedroom window. The former is a symbol of technology’s unrelenting progress, a reminder that someone is always watching; the latter is a symbol of technology’s everlasting endurance, a reminder that nothing is ever really gone.
After a third act that sees the focus shift from Stacey’s techno-troubles to the more quotidian matters of her blossoming relationship, Crocker pulls off an ending that brings the drama full circle in a way that is both unexpected and satisfying.
Comparisons to Sally Rooney and Eileen Myles have been made, but there’s something in Crocker’s forthright descriptions of physical bodies and their functions that feels closer to the work of Ottessa Moshfegh. “I whipped the crumbs off my chest,” says Stacey, after eating a piece of toast, “and sniffed my armpits. I stank. … I went up to my bedroom and rubbed deodorant into my sweaty armpit hair.” Later, after having sex with Kris, Stacey notes that her girlfriend’s legs are “thin but muscular and covered in dark, curly hair.” The beauty of these descriptions lies in the nonchalance of their delivery. It is Crocker’s straightforward honesty and forthrightness that is most refreshing.
All I Ask will be released in ebook June 2, with print to follow August 4.