For both parents and child, the subject of adoption is fraught with emotional complications. That’s the point of departure for New York writer Boris Fishman’s perceptive second novel, Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo. And like his debut novel, A Replacement Life, it also deals with the challenges facing immigrants from the former Soviet Union as they adapt to life in the United States.
There’s definitely something different about Max Rubin, the adopted 8-year-old son of Alex Rubin, of Belarus, and his wife, Maya, of Ukraine. The blonde-haired, green-eyed boy is fond of sleeping in a tent and has even taken to tasting some of the varieties of grass growing around his New Jersey townhouse. His decision to abandon the school bus and disappear one late spring afternoon throws his family into crisis.
Maya’s need to unravel the mystery that is Max eventually leads her to propose a family odyssey to Montana, where Max was born. For the suburbanites, Montana might as well be Mars, a reality Fishman adroitly reveals in describing both its geography and its culture.
At the heart of this family drama is mercurial, deeply sympathetic Maya, who senses disaster lurking around every corner. Fishman patiently uncovers the tensions embedded in the Rubins’ relationship that intensify Maya’s restlessness. They’ve reached the midpoint of their lives in an alien land without a clear vision of where life is taking them, and with a vague sense of unease that’s exacerbated by their sharp disagreements over how much of Max’s history they need to know.
Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo—the plea of Max’s young mother as she hands over her child to his adoptive parents—is a ruminative story about the often fragile bonds of family. Even the most comfortable parents and children may someday confront a crisis as unsettling as the one that afflicts the Rubins, a truth that allows this novel to resonate with unexpected force.