Maya Shulman came to the US as a Ukrainian exchange student. Her dream to open a cafe and be a chef had to take a back seat to her medical studies. When her student visa was about to run out, she met and married Alex Rubin, a fellow Russian who himself came to this country with his parents when he was just a tiny boy. Alex had his own dreams that he suppressed to go into the family import business. When Alex and Maya discover they can't have children, they adopt a baby. But Max's advent in their family brings up many questions. Alex's parents, and Alex himself, are against adopting, arguing that you don't know what you're getting with someone else's child. Maya wonders if she's an imposter, not really a mother, not having carried and given birth to Max. And when Max at age eight starts to exhibit some strange behaviours, the Rubins decide that they need to go to Montana to track down Max's birth parents, a teenaged couple they met once before, to see if there are any genetic explanations for Max's predilections.
The farther they get from New Jersey, the more Maya is gripped with a desire to break free of the stultifying and constrained life she's been living. The open space and the wildness speak to something in her, much as she imagines it must call to Max, being the land of his birth. The road trip to Montana is bizarre and fanciful and sometimes surreal, as is the narrative as a whole. Fishman addresses issues of identity and immigrant life, the feeling of not being Russian anymore but not really being American yet either. Maya, in looking for answers about her strange and quirky son, is really on a voyage of self-discovery, one that will surprise her and her solid, often unimaginative husband both. The dynamics between the elder Rubins and their comparison to everything back home and the younger Rubins, settling for a passionless existence in almost every area of their lives, is well done and realistic. They are separated by not only a generation but also their cultural identification, Russian versus American. Max, as an adopted child, is the literal personification of this, a Rubin by law but not by blood so that he is forever a mystery to them. Fishman has certainly captured a sense of dislocation with its question of belonging and what that means here, both literally and figuratively. Each of the characters is fully formed even if they aren't always terribly sympathetic. The narrative meanders from the present to Alex and Maya's past and has dreamlike sequences along the way that interrupt the otherwise smooth flow. And the road map of where the Rubin family will go in the end feels more hopeful than the tone of the rest of the novel would have suggested. This is, without a doubt, a complex and complicated story with many levels to it, many questions, and a realistic lack of answers.
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Thanks to the publisher and Trish from TLC Book Tours.