Years ago, when I was teaching writing in an Ohio graduate program, I would spend two summer weeks on its campus—we taught online in fall and spring semesters—where the far-flung faculty would get to know one another and meet other visiting poets, fictionists, and nonfictionists. In summer 2016, I was assigned to co-present a craft lecture with a new faculty member, Erika Krouse, she a novelist, I a memoirist. We planned to discuss our genres jointly in a dual presentation. At the start of our talk, "The Value of Vignettes and Other Variations," she explained that we both "use vignettes a fair amount in our own work" and would talk about our particular strategies. I mentioned a couple of my essays and my recent memoir Happenstance, she mentioned some of her short stories and her recent novel Contenders, and we alternated giving examples from other writers in our genres. The talk went well.
That was my last year with the program and, like all but one of the people I'd known there, Erika didn't remain on the faculty either. She continued teaching in the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, a solid writing program I once (briefly) taught in. I tended to keep track of Colorado writers I'd read and eventually discovered that Erika Krouse had recently published a memoir, Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation. I learned about it because she posted on Facebook about its imminent publication and mentioned her appearances at various venues to read and discuss it. By the time she posted an image of a long review in Slate for March 14, a brief review declaring it Book of the Week in People for April 4, an article in The Week naming her Author of the Week for April 15 and quoting a Colorado Sun review, and a half-page review in the May 8 issue of The New York Times Book Review, my wife and I had already read the book aloud to one another at supper time and thought it truly merited the attention it was getting.
There are two ways to interpret the subtitle of the book. The primary narrative is a story of a specific private investigation, following the author's recruitment as a detective working for a lawyer representing the victim of sexual assault by college football players. That story tracks the author's development of her abilities to interrogate subjects and witnesses and essentially exposes a network of abuse and covering up evidence. The personal private narrative that is interspersed with that story involves the author's childhood victimization by her stepfather and its long-lasting impact on her sense of self and outlook on the world she moves through.
All of these elements are drawn from her life, altered in some details for personal and practical reasons, but otherwise emotionally and intellectually observant and honest. As Patrick Hoffman points out in his review of the book, the case centering on football players, coaches and recruits and the story of Krouse's sexual abuse "become the two threads that compose this beautifully written, disturbing and affecting memoir. This is literary nonfiction at a high level." A private investigator himself, Hoffman claims to have initially "worried that the dual narratives of Krouse's personal story and the football team's rape case wouldn't coalesce. Sadly, they fit together all too well."
In the introduction to her interview of Erika in The Colorado Sun, Kathryn Eastburn calls it "the tale of Krouse's work from 2002 to 2007 as a private investigator on a rape case against a Colorado university football team that evolved into a landmark Title IX civil rights case. It's also a blistering account of the toll of childhood sexual assault on her life." Krouse herself points out that "this case in Colorado changed the perceived responsibility of the university toward its students, saying the university is responsible for the safety of its students, no matter what."
"It is not the detective who creates the culture of the crime, like Sherlock Holmes fiddling with his matchbooks, watermarks, Dutch cigarette butts, or the fading scent of white jasmine perfume," Krouse tells us. "The culture of the crime is defined by the culture of the place where the crime is committed." Through her perceptive and conscientious prose, we come to fully understand the culture of the crime and its lasting effects on its victims.
I lived some dozen miles from the university when the case went to court and media reported it, and met Erika briefly a decade later, but have only just learned about her role in the case. The book has been optioned for TV. If the adaptation can capture what she has created on the page, it will be a very powerful viewing experience. I look forward to it.
Eastburn, Kathryn. "Sunlit Interview: Erika Krouse couldn't ignore own sex assault in a broader investigative story," The Colorado Sun (March 20, 2022).
Hoffman, Patrick. "Trust Me," The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, May 8, 2022): 19.
Krouse, Erika. Tell Me Everything: The Story of a Private Investigation. New York: Flatiron Books, 2022.
Miller, Laura. "The Unreliable Narrator," Slate (March 14, 2022)