Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeoby Boris Fishman
New York Times Book Review's "100 Notable Books of 2016"
The author of the critically admired, award-winning A Replacement Life turns to a different kind of story—an evocative, nuanced portrait of marriage and family, a woman reckoning with what she’s given up to make both work, and the universal question/em>/strong>/em>
New York Times Book Review's "100 Notable Books of 2016"
The author of the critically admired, award-winning A Replacement Life turns to a different kind of story—an evocative, nuanced portrait of marriage and family, a woman reckoning with what she’s given up to make both work, and the universal question of how we reconcile who we are and whom the world wants us to be.
Maya Shulman and Alex Rubin met in 1992, when she was a Ukrainian exchange student with “a devil in [her] head” about becoming a chef instead of a medical worker, and he the coddled son of Russian immigrants wanting to toe the water of a less predictable life.
Twenty years later, Maya Rubin is a medical worker in suburban New Jersey, and Alex his father’s second in the family business. The great dislocation of their lives is their eight-year-old son Max—adopted from two teenagers in Montana despite Alex’s view that “adopted children are second-class.”
At once a salvation and a mystery to his parents—with whom Max’s biological mother left the child with the cryptic exhortation “don’t let my baby do rodeo”—Max suddenly turns feral, consorting with wild animals, eating grass, and running away to sit face down in a river.
Searching for answers, Maya convinces Alex to embark on a cross-country trip to Montana to track down Max’s birth parents—the first drive west of New Jersey of their American lives. But it’s Maya who’s illuminated by the journey, her own erstwhile wildness summoned for a reckoning by the unsparing landscape, with seismic consequences for herself and her family.
Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo is a novel about the mystery of inheritance and what exactly it means to belong.
This touching second novel by Fishman (A Replacement Life) centers on a Jewish immigrant couple, Ukrainian-born Maya Rubin and Belarusian-born Alex Rubin, who live in northern New Jersey with their eight-year-old adopted son, Max. When Max (an “unquestionable goy”) begins acting erratically—disappearing after school, chewing grass, befriending deer—Maya determines that his strange behavior has somehow to do with his being adopted—which Max doesn’t know. With the intention of finding his birth parents (not since the young Maya and Alex first drove Max to New Jersey eight years before, betraying the closed nature of the adoption, have Maya and Alex heard from his parents), and showing Max where he came from, the Rubins set out for Montana, the state where Max was born. As the family, who rarely travel outside of New Jersey, make their way westward, encountering the eccentricities of American culture along the way, the spotlight focuses on Maya, who is overpowered by feelings of parental insecurity and restlessness. After a slow start, the novel, which seems at first like a road trip story, transforms into a sensitive and surprisingly adventurous exploration of one woman’s wonder and suffering. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Mar.)
Maya and Alex Rubin's eight-year-old adopted son, Max, has been acting out in odd ways: sleeping on the floor, disappearing after school to count pebbles in a river, communing with deer. Searching for an explanation, the Rubins try a psychologist, a gypsy healer, and finally a road trip to Max's birthplace in Montana. But is Max's behavior really the problem, or is it the growing distance between Maya and Alex? Fishman (A Replacement Life) has written a novel largely about culture clash. Maya and Alex are immigrants, Maya from Ukraine and Alex from Belarus, and they both have a measure of discomfort with American culture. Maya is also something of an alien in her own family, which includes Alex's overbearing parents. Finally, there is the question of Max's Western roots clashing with the eastern New Jersey Jewish Rubins. VERDICT The novel is somewhat frustrating, as little in Max's behavior appears to warrant the level of anxiety it provokes in his parents, and their reaction seems to cause more damage. Yet the book is more honest than most regarding the range of doubts and fears experienced by an adoptive family. The ending offers some hope of the family's healing, however tenuous. [See Prepub Alert, 9/14/15.]—Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
The parents of an eccentric adopted child head west to explore his roots and learn a few things about their own. Maya and Alex are immigrants of Russian Jewish extraction with little comprehension of America outside their suburban New Jersey enclave, so they're not sure what to make of it when their preteen son, Max, acquires a taste for the outdoors. He scares mom and dad by briefly disappearing to explore a nearby stream, has a newfound expertise in varieties of grasses, and he's gotten frighteningly close to the fauna in the backyard. Perhaps his biological parents' native land, Montana, somehow lurks in his genes? It's a preposterous notion, but for a novelist with a sense of the absurd like Fishman (A Replacement Life, 2014, etc.), it's enough to hang a novel on, and he has plenty of insights on how blurrily parents often perceive the nature-versus-nurture divide. Eager to look for the roots of Max's behavior, Maya thinks back to her own past (as an aspiring restaurateur who married to stay in the United States) as well as her scraps of memory of Max's biological parents, a hotel-clerk mom and battered rodeo-performer dad (hence the title). Fishman entertainingly satirizes a host of types (a folk healer, a dotty psychologist, a weary adoption-agency staffer, starchy old-world in-laws), but he's sincere when it comes to Maya, who's at the center of a plot twist that gives the closing chapters their gravitas. This feels almost like a magic trick given some of the narrative creakiness: Fishman sometimes overwrites scenes, Max and Alex don't claim much of the stage, a love-story detour feels untenable, and Montana is overplayed as a punch line. ("It can't be more beautiful than New Jersey," says Maya.) But Fishman smartly observes that the assimilation novel and road-trip novel make good partners. Both, after all, are about finding freedom. A comic novel about parenting infused with emotional intelligence.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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- 9.50(w) x 6.40(h) x 1.30(d)
Meet the Author
Boris Fishman was born in Minsk, Belarus, and immigrated to the United States in 1988 at the age of nine. His journalism, essays, and criticism have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. His first novel, A Replacement Life won the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal, was one of The New York Times' 100 Notable Books, and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick. He lives in New York.
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