Review: Barefoot Dogs by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

Author: Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

Published: March 2015

Short Stories | 160 pages | Published by Scribner

Barefoot Dogs is a book that demands we relish every word and revel in its ephemeral nature. It is a slender collection of only 140 pages of content that exudes sophistication and relevance. The narrative follows the Arteagas, a wealthy Mexican family who is forced to expatriate and abandon their ancestral home in Mexico after the patriarch, Jose Victoriano Arteaga, is kidnapped by a drug gang and all their lives face immediate peril. 

Barefoot DogsEven though it could easily pass for one, Barefoot Dogs is not a novel, but a collection of short stories told from the perspectives of several members of the Arteaga tribe or people who had close ties to them, such as a maid who had been working for the family for decades or the mistress nobody knew existed. The link between these stories is sometimes subtle, but the haunting memory of the kidnapping and the feeling of exile that permeates all of them makes it clear that this is a grand family drama told in short form, in stunning vignettes.

The most striking feature of Barefoot Dogs is the elegant, perceptive, and evocative language. At times, I was struck by how beautiful and original the sentences were. Titles such as “Origami Prunes,” the titular “Barefoot Dogs,” and phrases like “Laura’s helplessness was wrapped in a thin layer of arrogance” are clever and memorable. At a book signing event in Austin, the author interestingly described writing in English as being similar to how we see when opening our eyes underwater! So this strange and clever language is all the more impressive when one considers that English is the author’s second language, one he learned later in life.

I am unabashedly a lover of ambitious and sprawling narratives, so when I read short story collections, my brain naturally seeks to find a connection of any sort between them. This book is admittedly not a sprawling narrative. Thankfully, it reads more like a very short novel than a collection of stories and I appreciated having a reference point from which to experience all the them — the kidnapping of the patriarch and the family in exile.

I will refrain from discussing individual stories in-depth due to the short length of the work. But I will say that Antonio Ruiz-Camacho wrote an impressively diverse set of stories that cover several themes and ideas and are told in varying narrative structures. From stream-of-consciousness narration to stories told entirely through dialogue — the writing keeps you on your toes and is executed expertly.

The family tree at the end proved to be tremendously influential in my enjoyment of the overarching story because I was quickly able to place a character in context of the larger narrative. For example, Laura from “Origami Prunes” is the eldest daughter of the kidnapped patriarch; Fernanda and Nicolasa from “It Will Be Awesome Before Spring” are Laura’s daughters, though I would have never known if I had skipped the family tree. These subtle connections are suddenly made significant and as a result I was able to appreciate the stories both individually and collectively. 

Barefoot Dogs earns my most earnest praise and recommendation. It is timely, powerful fiction about a family torn apart by violence that is brilliantly rendered in smart and singular language. As far as short story collections go, this is one of best you’ll read in 2016. 

14 thoughts on “Review: Barefoot Dogs by Antonio Ruiz-Camacho

  1. That sounds wonderful, you make a great case for short story collections 🙂 I love short stories but am awful at reading collections, such a conundrum 😀 But I love that there is a mystery and overarching narrative to it and the phrases you quoted sound amazing!

  2. Short books are amazing, and I love how this sounds. I am adding it to my TBR. If only these books were not expensive in India, if only the libraries offered these kind of books, how fabulous my life would have been! 🙂

    I love your review. And I love how extensively you write about them. Thank you. 🙂

    1. You are going to love shopping for books in America, then. There are so many bargain bookstores. I hope you’re mentally prepared 🙂

      Yes, I love writing and reading reviews. I really do 😁

  3. I love linked short stories – this one is going on my list!
    And very impressive that he is writing in a language that is not his first.

        1. Yes, I am. I would do best in the YA genre. Something in the vein of “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.” Seeing myself in that story was so important and special. I want to do that for other young Hispanic boys specifically and young people in general.

          I believe YA fiction is one of the most important kinds of literature because it’s the best time for creating life-long readers.

          For now this is just a little dream of mine, though. 🙂

          1. It’s so true that making sure there is a lot of diversity in children’s and youth’s books is so important! It’s nice to think we have people like you dreaming about writing more of them! 🙂

    1. Why thank you! I remember stumbling upon your blog months back and falling in love with the pictures you take. They’re breath-taking. But then The Book Satchel was brought to my attention recently by Whitney at Brown Books and Green Tea. I will also be visiting your blog regularly now.

      I am a new lover of short story collections. I have read many in 2016 and will continue to do so because they’re wonderful and quick to read. I also have a goal — to become a valuable resource for books of short stories by diverse authors. 🙂

  4. Beautifully written review! I’m totally intrigued by the narration and the fact that its actually a collection of short stories. I’m really curious how this unique format conveys the story.

    – Lashaan

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