Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo is a novel about finding the right words for what was once foreign but is no longer. It is suffused with sadness as well as humor, with hope as well as weary despair, and Fishman describes the turmoil of family, parenthood and cultural emotion with urgent, sly detachment. His language has the originality and imagination of someone who comes to English with unexpected thoughts and rhythms in his head, and he is, simply, a joy to read.
Fishman's book lays plain the contradictions and sacrifices inherent in the immigrant experience. Sometimes the symbols and metaphors are a bit too on the nose: the car the Rubins drive west is the Escape and the cowboy Maya meets is named Marion, like John Wayne. But more often than not, this book is an eloquent and uncynical tale of how far people must travel to find out what they truly want and who they truly are.
The plains may be flat and barren, but Fishman's narrative swerves repeatedly in refreshingly unexpected directions. After a bumpy start, Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo grows on you as it stretches beyond themes of adaptation to champion the importance of getting in touch with the great wilderness — both in nature and oneself.
Fishman’s respect for the absurdity of his preposterous tale usually, but not always, redeems some of his more extravagant touches. And a gaudy supporting cast — a bus driver who plays impresario to his passengers, a henpecked park ranger who takes his shotgun to a rattlesnake, a reclusive one-eyed popular novelist — leavens what might otherwise be a somber story of marital discord. Fishman sometimes tends to belabor unnecessary explication. But his second novel is a fresh, unpredictable departure from his first.
If [this] sounds like a slightly forced premise, have no fear: With Fishman, we are in the hands of a genuine miniaturist, a cultivator of particulars, a writer who knows that familial conflict is the realm of intense feeling packaged in tiny gestures.
In Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo, Boris Fishman — even if he can’t quite break free of the meta-fictional Mishkin looking over his shoulder — tries courageously to tell a story that is different. The fact that he largely succeeds, and that he worries, in the text, about the ways in which he doesn’t, are promising developments for Fishman as a novelist, and for Russian-American fiction as a whole.
Readers will be glad that they made the journey with Maya Rubin as she searches the American West in an attempt to find herself. Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo is a wonderful and quiet look at the eternal question of what it means to belong.
Along the way, there are some funny little moments and a growing sense that Maya and Alex’s ongoing argument about the point of this trip speaks to a crisis in their marriage, which turns out to be more profoundly Maya’s own personal crisis ... Sadly, the beguiling young Max remains little more than a conveniently opaque presence; Fishman could have devoted more attention to exploring an eight-year old’s views of life and family, irrespective of how much or little his particular eccentricities figure. Indeed, when Max finally learns the truth of his origins, his shock and confusion are so heart-rending to read about, for a moment you stop caring about why this kid should never do rodeo.