About Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo
• Hardcover: 336 pages
• Publisher: Harper (March 1, 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.
About Boris Fishman
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.
Ok, so I admit that about 40% of the reason I was excited about this book was that it was set in Montana. You guys know how much I love Montana. Joking aside, the plot is entertaining, but for me, the real joy of this book was in the character development.
The characters are quite complex, and I found myself alternating between hating them and loving them. Most of the time, I was somewhere in between, but each of them stuck with me. In that way I think Fishman has done a stellar job of creating entirely “human” characters – their flaws make them real.
The book shifts back and forth between the present situation and Maya and Alex’s backstory – how they met, the early years of their marriage, adopting Max. What happens is you watch them grow and change….and you have more patience with them. Often, I’d catch myself thinking one thing about them (usually something negative about Alex being overbearing or Maya being complacent), but then in the next chapter I’d completely change my mind. I found I couldn’t judge them, much as I wanted to at times, because their lives shaped who they’d become.
It’s also an interesting look at what it means to be “from” a place – and to take that place (or rather, your heritage) with you through life. Through the chapters you see Maya’s family struggle to hold on to a piece of home, while also trying to adjust to being an American. For a while in the middle of the book, I felt as though the characters were lost – and in a way, they were. Fishman did an excellent job capturing that feeling of being “in between,”and did so well enough that even a born-in-the-USA reader felt she could relate.
This was a beautifully written book that grabbed me from the beginning. It’s not the kind of story you fly through; rather, it’s the kind you want to read slowly and savor.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the chance to join this tour. Check out the rest of the tour stops here!