Saturday, March 5, 2016
Review: Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo
hardcover, 336 pages
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.