Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo|Boris Fishman
Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo
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New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2016

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 item is Non-Returnable


  • ISBN-13: 9780062384362
  • ISBN-10: 0062384368
  • Publisher: Harper
  • Publish Date: March 2016
  • Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Page Count: 336

A new family seeks answers

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 Rodeothe 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.


This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.