Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo by Boris Fishman

FishmanIn his latest novel, Fishman (A Replacement Life, 2014), once again delves into the problems inherent in acculturation, and he also examines the relationship of marriage.

Alex and Maya, originally from Belarus and Ukraine, respectively, meet in the States as her visa was about to expire. They marry and settle in New Jersey. Maya’s dream is to open a Russian-themed café; Alex’s goal is to explore new professional realms. Neither partner’s objective is fulfilled. Maya becomes a mammography technician, and Alex works at his father’s business. Alex’s parents loom large in the couple’s life. They abhor the idea of her son and his wife adopting after Maya is unable to become pregnant. To complicate matters further, Max, the child they adopt, comes from the most foreign of places—Montana.

Although he is an easy child, Max starts acting strangely at age 8. He has only one friend, collects and labels different grasses, and communes with deer. The family, all city dwellers, is horrified. Seeking answers to this odd behavior, Maya insists they take a cross-country road trip in search of the boy’s birth parents. As O Magazine’s book editor Dotun Akintoye writes in his review:

The quest to find out what’s wrong with Max is slowly revealed to be Maya’s journey to find out what’s wrong with her—why she can’t shake the feeling of being an outsider, why she feels stultified by the man she loves. Every step Maya takes to obtain answers about Max becomes an act of self-discovery. It is Maya who blooms like a wildflower ‘enlarged by the landscape.’

Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo resonates on many levels. The novel shines a light on the difficulties within the American adoption system and employs a comic case worker—Mishkin—to do so. He is a nod to the Dostoyevesky anti-hero, Prince Lyov Nikolaevich Myshkin (The Idiot, 1869), whose kind simplicity is mistaken for naivete.

Fishman is an expert miniaturist who examines marriage at a crossroads. Maya wonders if she married out of love or out of desire for citizenship. Has their marriage been predicated on a lie? And what has been the price of other lies over the course of many years—even those made for Alex’s benefit?

Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo is a satiric, often comic, look at the notion of family and what it means to be American.

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