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Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Review: Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo

Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo
Boris Fishman
hardcover, 336 pages
Harper
A review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours

     Boris Fishman, author of A Replacement Life, has a second novel, and it's a doozy. Fishman, who was born in Belarus and has lived in the United States since age nine, again sets his novel among Russian immigrants, this time living in New Jersey. Maya is a Ukrainian exchange student when she meets Alex, the son of Russian immigrants who run a successful import business. When Maya meets Alex, she is far more sexually experienced than he is (she's actually dating one of his friends), and she's studying for a job in the medical field, although her passion is cooking. On the night Alex meets her, Maya is cooking up a storm in a tiny kitchen. Alex becomes enthralled, and when Maya is about to go back to the Ukraine because her visa is due to expire, Alex offers to marry her--even though they've known each other only three weeks.

     Maya and Alex settle into American life in New Jersey. He works in his father's business, and Maya gives up her dream of opening her own cafe and becomes a mammography technician. When it becomes evident that the couple cannot have children, they adopt an infant boy. Alex wants a closed adoptions, and Maya is for openness (a conflict demonstrative of their different styles). A closed adoption is arranged, but the couple ends up meeting the birth parents just once, and the birth mother (the couple is from Montana) admonishes Alex and Maya not to let the baby do rodeo. Not much chance of that in suburban New Jersey.

     But suddenly, ten-year-old Max begins to act strangely. He runs away, he consorts with animals, he collects wild grasses, which he secretly munches on. He dreams of riding a gigantic pike. It's all mysterious, weird, and wild. Maya becomes obsessed with the idea of tracking down Max's birth parents, and insists that she, Alex, and Max must drive to Montana, where Maya hopes to track down Laurel and Tim, the birth parents.

     So the immigrant story meets the road trip, and hilarity and confusion ensue.

     The novel turns out to be Maya's book, and that is a good thing. She's a force of nature, and I fell thoroughly in love with her. It turns out that natural forces can't be denied forever. Maya's journey to self-discovery, which takes place in the second half of the book, is urgent, unapologetic, and sometimes has a surreal quality. Maya has left so much of herself behind: her dreams of cooking in her own cafe, her family (her mother is a storyteller, one who weaves gossip and fairy tale into art) and a sort of earthy, physical exuberance that has been tamped down for too long.

     Fishman's novel approaches questions of identity, family, love, and the search for happiness in ways that defy definition. Not quite realistic, never predictable, Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo is wholly original and unexpectedly moving. Fishman adroitly evaded the sophomore slump in this exploration of the wilderness inside one woman.

9 comments:

Andi said...

I heard about this one on the All the Books podcast and it sounds pretty amazing. Your review was excellent. Very compelling indeed. I'm feeling an itchy purchase finger, but I'm trying to hold back.

bibliophiliac said...

Lol! There's always the library. I loved Maya for being such a wild woman. This book was really different....

bermudaonion said...

Well now I'm very curious about Max's behavior and whether it was nature or nurture. This sounds really good!

bibliophiliac said...

@bermudaonion-The nature vs nurture question definitely comes up in this book...

trish said...

I love that the idea of identity is seemingly explored on two levels -- Max's and Maya's, both very different in the exploration, but also the same. Books like this really epitomize why I read books, because they speak to universal struggles of all humans, and who of us don't want to know that we're not alone in our struggles?

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book!

Susan Bybee said...

Yes please itchy purchase finger!

Susan Bybee said...

Yes please itchy purchase finger!

Debra Ilberman said...

Does Maya really meet Laurel? How do you understand the choice of questions she asks when they meet?

Debra Ilberman said...

Did Maya really meet Laurel or was that a fantasy? I thought it was a fantasy because it seemed so random to meet her and Laurel knew Max's name, which she would not have known. However, it it was real how do you understand the questions she asked her?