In anticipation of the publication of her debut novel, “Eva Crocker shares a story about her mother, Lisa Moore”.

In the broadest sense, her piece reveals the importance of childhood memories and how, even years later, events that occured when we are young, fundamentally influence our responses to events in our adulthood. This is a factor in All I Ask, a story which is best discovered without spoilers.

Lisa Moore is a favourite writer of mine, so when Naomi told me about the connection between these women, my expectations of All I Ask rose immediately.

Are there similarities in the women’s writing? A comparable focus on relationships. The narrator of All I Ask takes a Standardized Patient Testing gig at the hospital, where you help train student doctors by acting a part and presenting key symptoms, which is also true of one of the characters in a Lisa Moore story). Debut coming-of-age novel that gains substantial critical attention, following a collection of short stories. (Lisa Moore’s was 2004’s Alligator and she had published two story collections.) So, yes, some similarities.

Early on, in All I Ask, readers are alerted to the fact that the narrator is interested in different ways of being. We know that she has experimented with portraying herself from different angles online—literally and metaphorically—sometimes explicitly, always without revealing her face. This poses questions, from the start, about whether this is simply part of coming-of-age, testing different personalities, different versions of one’s burgeoning selfhood. Or whether this is indicative of a deeper deception.

It could go either way: it’s possible for even innocuous elements of life to inhabit both extremes on a scale. Like this: “Most of the clothes had been donated by old people, or more likely by their families after they’d passed away. It was all either really big or really small because of how people tend to shrink or expand at the end of their life.” Maybe, as we age, we inhabit more space, but perhaps we inhabit less. This kind of paradox remains unanswerable and it’s the process of questioning that matters more.

What I most enjoyed about All I Ask was the glimpse into everyday, ordinary life of a young woman in Newfoundland. Her concerns—about trust and reliability, about self-definition and independence—are universal and relatable. And even when not very much is happening, it was more than enough to maintain my interest.

Other debut novels by young women have been longlisted and, like this one, not shortlisted for the prize, like Zoey Leigh Peterson’s Next Year for Sure (in 2017) and Jennifer Lovegrove’s Watch How We Walk (in 2014)—both favourites of mine. Occasionally one has advanced to the shortlist, like Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl (in 2016) and Heather O’Neill’s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (in 2014).

Inner workings
Predominantly character-driven, with an uncertainty that simmers beneath the story for the duration, this isn’t necessarily a complex, layered story. Still, thematic echoes do add vital notes of satisfaction: “Before the bite I would stick my hand out and pet any dog I saw in the street. Now I never pet a dog I don’t know.”

Straightforward, plain speech with the occasional flourish: “There were long pauses between the retching. It sounded like someone trying to lift a heavy piece of furniture.” But one of the characters does have a penchant for poetry and lyrical prose, with Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt, Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, and Chelsea Girls by Eileen Myles close at hand.

At a broader level, Crocker takes care to differentiate between the east-coast provinces: “The atmosphere at rallies in St. John’s was boisterous, almost joyful. No one got arrested for protesting in St. John’s. Not like in Labrador, where cops were sent up in hordes to violently arrest Land Protectors.” More granularly, she invites readers into the gritty, everyday life of a Newfoundlander with observations like this: “That fall had been cold, by September you couldn’t go around the house on Patrick Street without a second pair of socks.”

If the kind of rationalization/idealism in the following paragraph irks you, it might be difficult to forge a bond with the narrator; she’s credible and flawed, not necessarily “likeable”. “Even if it was just bartending and selling tickets, I would be spending time at the theatre. I’d know what auditions were coming up. I’d be there on closing night when everyone got wasted and people fought and hooked up for the first time. I’d spring to mind when people were casting. I’d go to more shows, improve my craft by observation and osmosis.”

Readers Wanted
Why people do things interests you than what they do.
You’ve suffered through roommates (or you’ve never had them and want to feel smug about that).
When you think of the Atlantic provinces, you rhyme off New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and P.E.I., but overlook Newfoundland and Labrador.

This book is a nominee for the 2020 Giller Prize. This post follows a format I first used in 2012. Prizelists invite readers to peer more closely at current publications; they can spark conversation, draw attention to hard-working writers, and encourage readers to look beyond these lists to the many, many other works of quality that are not included on longlists. Reading the longlisted books represents less than 5% of my year’s reading. Read widely and share your favourites!