Short Story Review – Dejana Dimitrijević – The Cover

This short story review has been imported from my now-defunct review website.  I will progressively import the remaining and available reviews throughout the coming months, all of which can be found here.

I used to think that I would get married and have a family. I thought it it would happen naturally, all by itself. When you reached such and such an age you simply got married and then had children. Like a pattern. You just followed it. A stitch here, a stitch there, and you get a blouse. But it seems this isn’t so.

I’ll admit it from the outset – I don’t crochet, haven’t crotched before, and am unlikely to do so in the future.  For the narrator of Dejana Dimitrijević’s The Cover crotchets quite often within her circle of friends.  They make useful things – clothing, caps, blouses, doilies.  Sometimes they make money from selling them, but often not.  The circle is, as can perhaps be expected, more a social circle than anything – they talk, they gossip, they watch television.  And sometimes crocheting occurs.

And yet, and yet.  And yet.  The narrator is different.  Where the others watch a soap opera and see the drama, she sees the gardens and the flowers.  Where the others talk about handsome men and troublesome husbands, the narrator’s closest friend, Smilja, sees only her work.  They are the true crocheters.

The story opens as a diary.  The narrator is upset, though we don’t yet know why.  She wants to set it all down before she forgets (though that will never happen), and so that she can make sense of what has occurred (though that, too, will never happen).  Something has gone wrong.

Things start innocently.  A good third of the story is taken up with introducing the circle of crocheting ladies, and then they vanish from the scene as soon as a competition – the Christmas Crochet Contest – is discovered by Smilja.  She wants to win her own pre-fabricated house; the newspaper within which the competition is announced includes a very strange, very large, crochet pattern.

And so Smilja begins.  The two crochet together, though the narrator never helps Smilja. Instead, she mostly observes.  At first, Smilja is able to bring the gradually expanding work – soon named The Cover – to the narrator’s house, but after a while the narrator must go to Smilja’s place, as The Cover becomes too large.

Time passes.  Christmas passes and then, all of a sudden, Smilja is found dead, The Cover is gone, and any detail of the competition has vanished.  What has happened?  Nobody knows, but the narrator thinks that, instead of the competition resulting in a winner in any meaningful sense, a person who successfully crochets The Cover becomes a part of it and vanishes from the ordinary mortal realm.

Dimitrijević knows, of course, that the art of crocheting is not in and of itself an inherently frightening art.  Her choice to present the story as a kind of diary told after and during the creation of The Cover serves to chronicle Smilja’s growing obsession, and also her slow slipping away from the physical world.  Smilja becomes, not quite incorporeal, but almost, her personality falling away, her physicality becoming slimmer and sleeker and more see-through.  While crocheting is not a particularly frightening concept, obsession certainly is, and what’s more, obsession is surely known by most everyone.  We may not exactly understand Smilja’s fascination with crocheting, but we understand her fascination with having something to be fascinated with.

The Cover ends predictably but satisfyingly nonetheless.  The narrator wishes to follow Smilja to wherever she has gone, and has begun to furiously practice crocheting in order to be able to complete her own version of The Cover.  While this is an expected ending, it works, and plays into the idea that it is the obsession that is important, and not the activity itself.

Author Dejana Dimitrijević
Title The Cover
Translator Alice Copple-Tosić
Nationality Serbian
Publisher Words Without Borders

Please visit the Short Story Reviews page to see all of the available reviews.

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