BAREFOOT DOGS: STORIES
By Antonio Ruiz–Camacho
Published in 2015 by Scribner.
Reviewed by Tony Burnett.
The nine stories of Ruiz-Camacho’s Barefoot Dogs seemed only loosely connected after the first reading. The settings range from Mexico City to Austin to Oklahoma and Madrid. What you immediately notice is Ruiz-Camacho’s unconventional language and viewpoint. You get the impression that the author views the components of a story as a complex recipe ripe for experimentation. He uses point of view as both entrée and spice, from a conventional third-person omniscient to first-person and even second-person. In “I Clench My Hands Into Fists And They Look Like Someone Else’s” he writes the entire story in dialogue, and pulls it off.
Though his technique is impressive, the concept of the book is equally daring. When the patriarch of a privileged Mexican family is kidnapped, the extended kin have no reference for such tragedy and panic in unforeseen ways, scattering to the far reaches of the globe. One would expect the reader wouldn’t relate to these characters due to the air of entitlement they possess. It’s their innocence that we relate to while understanding that this is why they will fail. And fail they do, most of them anyway, in strange and dramatic ways. The only true survivors are those on the periphery: the hired help, the mistress, those beneath who prevail above the fray. These stories are multi-layered, multicultural masterpieces of social observation. At the same time they are intimate portrayals of desperation, tragedy and in some cases a sort of backhanded triumph.
I can’t imagine a readership who wouldn’t be entertained and enlightened by these beautiful dark stories. Writers will be amazed and educated. I can see Barefoot Dogs becoming integrated into MFA programs. It will certainly propel Ruiz-Camacho into a respected position in literary arts.
One hint: When you read the book, check out the family tree on the back page first. The complexities of the familial relationships can be vague without this knowledge.
Tony Burnett has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2010 and currently serves on the Board of Directors. His recent story collection, Southern Gentlemen, has been receiving positive reviews. He resides with his trophy bride, Robin, deep in the heart of Texas.