Published by Scribner on March 10, 2015
The linked stories in Barefoot Dogs provide a different perspective on immigration. Many of the characters left Mexico to escape the country's problems, but they are not the impoverished workers sneaking over the border who dominate the news. Rather, the characters were doing well in Mexico -- some family members brought their servants with them when they came to the United States -- and they miss the relatives and friends and culture they left behind.
Having emigrated, the characters are generally not doing well. "Deer" is about two Mexican women who work at a McDonald's in Austin -- or they would be working, but for the bear that wandered in at breakfast time and began eating all the McMuffins. The woman narrating the story fears losing her job (and her ability to send money home to support her children) more than she fears the bear.
Two stories in the collection are excellent. "Origami Prunes" tells of two displaced Mexicans who begin an affair in an Austin laundromat. It is a story about the desire to escape, the pain of escaping, and the impossibility of escaping the past or the forward movement of time. Confrontation (or not) of fear and anxiety, by both children and adults, is the theme of "Okie." Bernardo feels isolated and out-of-place in his new home in California, but leaving Mexico was the only choice his parents could make.
The title story provides the connecting thread. It tells of Mexicans, now living in crowded quarters in Madrid, who moved after body parts of a kidnapping victim kept arriving in the mail. The narrator is challenged by caring for a baby and a vomiting dog in a strange land. Other stories also involve or touch upon the kidnapping, including one in which a woman needs to explain (or avoids explaining) to her son why her father has been absent for weeks. Another, "It Will Be Awesome Before Spring," is sort of a crime story, or a potential crime story, or a fear of crime story, told by a young woman who anticipates a visit to Italy without realizing that Mexico is no longer a place she can live. Much of the story is told with a curious detachment that causes it to lose its punch when it finally works its way around to a dramatic moment.
Some stories experiment with form, but not in a way that makes them inaccessible. One story, told entirely in dialog between a brother and sister staying in a shabby New York apartment, didn't work for me at all. Another story is a large block of text with no paragraphs. One is interrupted by single lines with phrases like WOW and WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME. One that I didn't particularly like is written from the perspective of a ghost. A key sequence in the title story might be a dream, but that isn't clear.
While the stories in Barefoot Dogs are uneven, they join together to form a larger story that exceeds the sum of its parts. The collection is worth reading for that reason, and for the unusual perspective it provides on expatriate Mexican life.