"There is no life without family–just as there is no malady without family," writes a character in Boris Fishman's Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo. Shaped and deformed as we all are by the people who raised us, meeting this novel's clan is akin to visiting ourselves.
They are the Rubins–Alex; his wife, Maya; his parents, Eugene and Raisa; and Alex and Maya's adopted son, Max, hand-delivered to them in New Jersey from Montana as an infant. At age 8, Max begins behaving erratically: He runs away and is found lying in a river with his head underwater, counting pebbles. He's seen crouched, performing a strange ritual, encircled by deer. He eats grass. A troubled Maya responds by dragging father and son cross-country to seek out the boy's biological mom and dad.
If that 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. Maya ponders how long it will take Alex, struggling to be conciliatory even as the couple differs on how to handle their son, to ask her to roll up the car window because the air conditioning is on. "She had counted to thirty-seven–he was trying."
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."
Of course, this self-revelation comes at a cost. Familial bonds are pushed to their limit. Vows are betrayed. But courage is found, too, enough for the Rubins to stand hand in hand, braving a storm. Enough to go home again.