Cheyenne in New York
The Association for Mormon Letters
…..by Jeffrey Needle
When “Cheyenne in New York” arrived, I was in a bit of a quandary. My prior experience with Jack Weyland novels was not altogether positive. I’ve always found him to be a bit formulaic, and often too preachy for my liking. His novels, of course, have been very popular among the LDS youth reading crowd, and, frankly, given his audience, he’s a pretty good writer, skilled with words and able to present his story in a readable manner.
This is Weyland’s 25th published book. This is a great milestone for any writer. Anyone who has tried to write a book knows the discipline needed to map out, launch, and actually complete a project. It helps to have an intimate knowledge of your subject. Weyland knows Mormon life very well. His books live and breathe Mormon idealism.
In this current volume, the author offers, in my opinion, a more textured and complex book than his previous offerings. To be sure, his usual themes of chastity among youth, loves gained and lost, the importance of living the Gospel in everyday life — these are all here and accounted for. But this is combined with a riveting account of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
“Cheyenne” is Cheyenne Durrant. A native of Idaho, a child of devout Mormon parents, and on summer break from BYU, she arrives in New York City to intern for the summer with a large ad agency. There she meets B.D. (Ben) Morelli, described on the back cover of the book as “a typical, brash, up-and-coming New York City ad agency executive.” Cheyenne is assigned to Ben for the summer, and Ben does not welcome this intrusion. Cheyenne is smart, spirited, and not willing to yield an inch to Ben as they pursue a breakfast cereal account. Worse, she insists on calling him “Beady,” something he finds very irritating.
But as the two spend time together, Ben learns that Cheyenne is a capable, quick thinker. She has qualities that seem to attract everyone but him. When Ben takes Cheyenne home for a family reunion, his entire family falls in love with Cheyenne. They all hope the two will ultimately marry, but Ben will hear nothing of it.
But nature, and the dangers of propinquity, take their course. Ben soon falls hopelessly in love with Cheyenne. But this is a match that simply won’t work. Ben is not a member of the Church. And — gasp — he drinks coffee! The question that hangs in the air — will Ben see enough in Cheyenne to motivate him to change his life? Will he join the Church? And if he does, will he join for the right reasons?
Weyland has Ben narrating the entire book. The many self-effacing references are often charming and sometimes surprising. Ben is often surprised at how Cheyenne has affected his life, his way of living, his way of thinking. Yes, he frequently comes up short, and sometimes he acts like a fool. But this, I suspect, is what real life is like.
Fiction writers are notorious for introducing story arcs that try to explain how the characters get from point A to point B. Weyland is no exception. And here is where I have a problem. In order for the story as a whole to be believable, the pieces must be believable. Weyland’s story arcs are often strained and stretch our credibility.
Let me set it up: Cheyenne’s parents are very conservative, very protective of their daughter. Her father is described as someone who would meet his daughter’s less desirable suitors at the door with a shotgun in his hand. They send her to BYU, presumably to keep her among the righteous. Now, she’s off to New York City, for a whole summer, all on her own, and her father lends her his truck so she can drive, alone, across the country. One must wonder why her parents would permit her to spend an entire summer, without a chaperone, in the Big City. In fact, then Ben is introduced to Cheyenne’s father, he comes across as a rabid dog, questioning Ben again and again as to whether he’s sleeping with Cheyenne. Why would such a man allow his daughter to travel, cross-country, by herself, to New York? It didn’t add up.
Later, at the time of the WTC attacks, Cheyenne is back at BYU when she hears of the disaster. She talks with Ben, learning that Ben’s father, grandfather and uncle have likely perished in the collapse of the Towers. She decides to drop out of school and come and help Ben with his neice and nephew, his mother, and the rest of the family, all of whom adore Cheyenne. She applies for a refund on her tuition, apparently gets it in a day, goes to a car agency and purchases a vehicle (her father disapproves of her decision, and won’t lend her the truck again), and takes off for New York and Ben and his family. Cheyenne doesn’t have enough money to buy a reliable vehicle, so Ben tells the salesman he’ll kick in $5,000, gives the salesman his credit card number, a fax number, and tells him he’ll sign the faxed copy of the credit slip when he can get back into the city and to his office and the fax machine.
Does all this sound just a bit too tidy? In the wake of the terrorist attacks, does a salesman in an auto agency just hand over a vehicle on the promise of some person in New York City? Does BYU issue tuition refunds so quickly? Does Cheyenne really know what she’s doing?
That being said, if you can get beyond the obvious difficulties in the transitions, this is a very good story. Weyland’s depiction of the WTC attacks, and their aftermath, are riveting reading. And he spares nothing in his description of their effect on Ben’s family. He explores the meaning of family and of love, of parental disaffection and the fracturing of families. And, as would be expected, he plumbs the depths of how the Gospel can enter into people’s lives and change them for the better.
Weyland develops the main characters convincingly. Their interaction is brought along at a leisurely, but sure, pace. As their love grows, so does the acknowledgement of how far they each need to go emotionally before there can be a real connection between them.
Some of the characters surprised me. Without giving away the end of the book, Cheyenne’s father brings the story to a close with an act of extraordinary Christian charity. It came out of nowhere; I was completely surprised.
I read the book in two sittings. Because there were several story threads, I found myself wanting to know, not only how each would be resolved, but how they would intertwine and mature together. Weyland does a good job in bringing closure to the various story lines.
Older teens and young adults will certainly enjoy this book. There’s plenty in here to cause them to think more deeply about the nature of tragedy and grief, the importance of family, and the enduring power of the Gospel to change lives.
(This article is from AML-List, a mailing list for the discussion of Mormon literature.)