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.