The Number 94 Project - Cheyenne Blue
The blurb on the back of The Number 94 Project says that this story is a light-hearted romance and sure, it is. But Cheyenne Blue does that thing she always does so beautifully. She makes the landscape one of the characters. Normally it’s the wide open spaces of Australia (see her ‘Girl Meets Girl Collection’ for wonderful examples of that writing technique), but in this story, the extra character is a house. Number 94 Gaylord Street is itself a character because it is strong enough to be one, despite being a shell of an actual house, and interesting enough, despite being a renovation nightmare, to support the main character’s developing relationship. As the house is demolished, and then begins to take shape, so to does Marta and Jorgie’s romance. When you read the book, you’ll see it. The house at Number 94 is not just supporting itself, it builds the street’s community, the people. It builds Marta and Jorgie.
Jorgie, handy-woman from the country and inheritor of Number 94, and Marta, city girl thanks very much, are perfect main characters. While Jorgie is definitely not from the city and Marta is definitely not from the country, these two could be from anywhere. They are location-less in their movement between place and space and it’s perfect. Both of them have been written as character chameleons and it makes us focus on them as people, not characters to move about as if on a stage. They are people because they grow. They are people because of how fluid they are in their transitions between the secondary characters; all residents of Gaylord Street.
The secondary characters are street specific, therefore Melbourne specific. It’s as if they were plucked from various suburbs in Greater Melbourne years ago, plopped into Gaylord Street with instructions to introduce themselves and create a community. As readers, we arrive at the story with this community already knitted together, therefore these people aren’t given an arc in which to grow. These characters are there to move the plot, Marta and Jorgie are given space to grow, and the house is there to support. Because let’s not forget the house.
The secondary characters in this book do not dominate the story which can happen sometimes. A big personality is fun to write, but insert that big personality into a secondary character? Well, that character better be static and location-specific, otherwise the main characters become invisible. Luckily, they don’t. Actually, it’s not luck. It’s excellent writing and knowing where the line is. Marta and Jorgie are very visible.
Coral could have easily become a super dominant secondary. She is a very big personality and beautifully counterbalances Marta and Jorgie, who are solid and dependable and grow. Coral is solid and dependable, but doesn’t grow. She is who she is right from the start. She and her big personality couldn’t have been a main character; she takes up too much psychological space. Coral prods the relationship along. Coral is wise comic relief. Coral is necessary.
The other characters in the tight community include Elfin who swings between strong secondary and…not. In fact, using the analogy of the house, Elfin is wall paint, then a feature wall, then wall paint. Which is good, because another Coral couldn’t possibly exist on Gaylord Street.
Another strong character is Leo who assists Jorgie with the renovation. Leo is an enigma and brings a twist to the story. He’s like the exciting and entirely unexpected shelving that you discover in the walk-in robe.
Cheyenne is terrific at foreshadowing and you feel the twist coming. Hang on…what was that about a light-hearted romance? That’s another twist because this story isn’t simply light-hearted, although it is. It isn’t simply about restoring a house, although it is. This story is about renovating assumptions, welding a sledgehammer to judgements, painting over lies, all the while tending to a relationship that is sweet and sensible and sensual. What’s that saying? Love conquers all? Perhaps in this story, love doesn’t conquer all because that’s an awful lot of responsibility for an abstract noun, but love certainly shimmers in the air above Gaylord Street and settles on the residents who have lifted their faces to breathe in its light.
The Number 94 Project is Cheyenne Blue writing at her best. Such wonderful layers, such lovely characters, such clever use of place to unite people, to connect them to the ground, then send them on their way. Once the Number 94 project is finished, it’s up to Marta and Jorgie to find their sense of place.