image-2015-03-10 (2)An unforgettable debut of linked stories that follow the members and retinue of a wealthy Mexican family forced into exile after the patriarch is kidnapped.

On an unremarkable night, José Victoriano Arteaga—the head of a thriving Mexico City family—vanishes on his way home from work. The Arteagas find few answers; the full truth of what happened to Arteaga is lost to the shadows of Mexico’s vast and desperate underworld, a place of rampant violence and kidnappings, and government corruption. But soon packages arrive to the family house, offering horrifying clues.

Fear, guilt, and the prospect of financial ruination fracture the once-proud family and scatter them across the globe, yet delicate threads still hold them together: in a swimming pool in Palo Alto, Arteaga’s young grandson struggles to make sense of the grief that has hobbled his family; in Mexico City, Arteaga’s mistress alternates between rage and heartbreak as she waits, in growing panic, for her lover’s return; in Austin, the Arteagas’ housekeeper tries to piece together a second life in an alienating and demeaning new land; in Madrid, Arteaga’s son takes his ailing dog through the hot and unforgiving streets, in search of his father’s ghost.

In these lingering uncertainties, readers receive a gift as rare as it is unnerving: a chance to enter imaginatively into a world of personal tragedy through portals other than pathos. Despite their myopia and unreckoned privilege, the wealthy wanderers of Barefoot Dogs never become objects of scorn or pity. And this is perhaps the most powerful testament to Ruiz-Camacho’s powers.

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Ruiz-Camacho is a native of Mexico who now lives in Austin and who held a Dobie Paisano fellowship at UT. He captures a range of voices and personalities while keeping the kidnappers invisible and thus more ominous.

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Finally, Ruiz-Camacho sticks the landing in the title story, transposing son Martin’s trip to the vet in Madrid with his memories of the don’s body parts’ arriving in the mail, ending with a conversation with his father’s ghost. A nimble debut that demonstrates not a singular narrative voice but a realistic chorus of them.

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