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Michelle Newby is contributing editor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.
Antonio Ruiz-Camacho was born in Toluca, Mexico, in 1973. For the last seventeen years he's worked in newsrooms, taught creative writing to bilingual second graders and sold Mexican handcrafts in a flea market in Spain.
A 2009 Knight Fellow at Stanford University and a 2014 Dobie Pasiano Fellow sponsored by the Graduate School at UT and The Texas Institute of Letters, he writes fiction and nonfiction in English and Spanish. He earned his MFA from the New Writers Project at the University of Texas at Austin, and his BA in communications from Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.
His story collection, Barefoot Dogs: Stories, was excerpted in the February 2015 Texas Monthly.
New York: Scribner
Hardcover, 978-147684960 (also available as ebook)
156 pages, $23.00
March 10, 2015
Reviewed for Lone Star Literary Life by Michelle Newby, 4.5.15
Most of the Mexicans we read about in the United States are immigrants, maids, janitors, day laborers, and the like. In this country we don’t often read about Mexicans in Mexico unless they’re drug lords – cartel kingpins and their enforcers – or the poor, desperate classes victimized by them. We almost never get fiction in English telling the other side of that conflict. So Antonio Ruiz-Camacho’s Barefoot Dogs: Stories is a rare thing on this side of the Rio Bravo.
Ruiz-Camacho tells the stories of the wealthy, privileged, cultured, and ambitious (let’s go ahead and call them plutocrats) Arteaga family of Mexico City. He has an uncanny ear for the prattle of pampered children trying adulthood on for size and for conveying their sheltered lives:
“It is the year we meet people who don’t live in the same neighborhoods as us….It is the year we get to know real artists who rent studios in dangerous districts on the other side of the city, and it is the year we socialize with historians and anthropologists and performance artists and book editors who live paycheck to paycheck and don’t have cars; these are fascinating, glamorous people who ride the subway and take taxicabs.”
It turns out to also be the year of kidnappings when the patriarch fails to come home from the office one day – the year the blinders come off. This collection of linked short fiction follows the diminished fortunes of the children and grandchildren who are forced to flee the country for their own safety.
“Okie” follows grandson Bernardo, a third-grader acting out as he tries to adjust to a new life with his parents in Palo Alto. In “Origami Prunes,” set in Austin, daughter Laura indulges a certain nihilism as she searches for purpose. Grandchildren Homero and Ximena are stranded in New York before their parents join them, high on whatever they can find, trying to escape homesickness and limbo.
Perhaps most movingly, “Deers” is told from the point of view of Laura’s maid who had to leave her own children in Mexico when the Arteagas fled – not all privilege has been left behind. The bear in the McDonald’s is an apt metaphor for the Arteagas diaspora; they’re all in unfamiliar places, trying to figure out how they got there and how to get home. In “Better Latitude,” the grandfather’s mistress (“He loved us the same way people like him love pedigree dogs, expensive cars, time-shares in Acapulco”) tries to shield their son from Mexico’s version of strange fruit while deciding whether they should leave, too, because her child carries his father’s name. Martin and Catalina try to adjust to the alien landscape of Madrid with their infant son. It doesn’t help that visions of Grandpa continue to haunt them as they scatter.
In the end, Grandpa is not the only one lost – they all are. Barefoot Dogs is an exploration of the reverberations of violence in the lives of the survivors.
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