Fishman, Boris. “Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo”, Harper, 2016.
Family and Freedom
Boris Fishman made quite a name for himself with his first book “A Replacement Life” and the wonderful things that have been said about it also are true of his second novel, “Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo”. In this new book, we follow a couple as they go to Montana in search of the biological parents of their adopted son. They are anxious to know if his real parents are the reason for his very wild behavior. This is a story about a marriage and family and one woman who has given her all to make both work. We also get a look at that age-old question of how can we be who we are and also what society wants us to be.
Maya Shulman and Alex Rubin met in 1992, when she was a Ukrainian exchange student and wanted to be a chef instead of a medical worker. Alex is the much-loved son of Russian immigrants whose life is all too predictable. They marry and some twenty years later, Maya is not a chef but a medical worker in suburban New Jersey, and Alex is ensconced in the family business. They adopted a son named Max who had been the child of two teens in Montana and is quite a handful. Max is eight and a mystery to his parents.
With their marriage, both Alex and Maya Rubin have thrown themselves into the quiet, calm life of suburban New Jersey. They are both distanced from their foreign roots and their lives have like those of prototypical Americans. Max, their son is 100% American until he begins to take on wild ways. Both Maya and Alex find him to be hard to deal with and he has been like that ever since his biological mother brought him to them some eight years earlier and who them told Maya, “Don’t let my baby do rodeo.” Now some eight years have passed and Maya has no idea what rodeo business was supposed to mean. Now the family is on its way to find out what they can about Max’s parents. As they are on the road, Maya feels herself thinking about what it was like when she was free and chased her dreams. Now after being married for twenty years, she realizes that the wildness in her has been tamed and she has become just a wife and a mother. Traveling to Montana and seeing the freedom of the landscapes, reawakens feelings in Maya that she had sublimated. What she and Alex learn in Montana present new choices that can have long lasting if not permanent effects on the family and especially on Maya.
Max’s strange behavior included his disappearing after school, chewing grass, being friendly with deer and Maya thinks that it is related to the fact that he is adopted. Max is unaware that he is adopted and—Maya wants to get to the core of his strange behavior. They go to Montana 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). This is also a great opportunity to show Max where he was born. and showing Max where he came from, the Rubins set out for Montana, the state where Max was born. As we travel with them we see that what seemed to have begun as a road trip story becomes something else —- “a sensitive and surprisingly adventurous exploration of one woman’s wonder and suffering”.
Author Boris Fishman shares what he sees about how parents often perceive the nature-versus-nurture divide and to do this he offers us fine satire about various characters we meet—a folk healer, an off-kilter psychologist, a worn out adoption-agency staffer, old country in-laws and both sets of Max’s parents. His portrait of Maya, I believe is sincere and Fishman ties together an assimilation novel with a road trip in a novel that is really about finding freedom and moving-on.
This is a novel that will stay with you for a very long time and not just because of the plot. Fishman’s prose is gorgeous, the characters are well developed and the plot is totally amazing.