At Slate , Rosecrans Baldwin notices that novelists are quite attuned to the sound of a dog barking in the distance:
Novelists can’t resist including a dog barking in the distance. I’ve seen it happen across the spectrumJackie Collins, William Faulkner, and Chuck Palahniuk: “There was no more rain, just an eerie stillness, a deathly silence. Somewhere a dog barked mournfully.” (American Star) “She did not answer for a time. The fireflies drifted; somewhere a dog barked, mellow sad, faraway.” ( Light in August ) “This is such a fine neighborhood. I jump the fence to the next backyard and land on my head in somebody’s rose bush. Somewhere a dog’s barking.” ( Choke )
Having heard the dog’s call, it seemed like I couldn’t find a book without one. Not T he Death of Ivan Ilyich . Not Shadow Country . Not Ulysses . Not Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men , or Monica Ali’s Alentejo Blue , or Steven King’s It or Christine . Not Jodi Picoult’s House Rules . If novelists share anything, it’s a distant-dog impulse. Picture an author at work: She’s exhausted, gazing at her laptop and dreaming about lunch. “[Author typing.] Boyd slammed the car door shut. He stared at his new condominium, with the for-sale sign in the yard. He picked up a pistol and pointed it at his head. [Author thinking, Now what? Gotta buy time.] Somewhere a dog barked. [Author thinking, Hmm, that’ll do.] Then Boyd remembered he did qualify for the tax rebate for first-time home buyers, and put down the gun.” If a novel is an archeological record of 4.54 billion decisions, then maybe distant barking dogs are its fossils, evidence of the novelist working out an idea.
What’s even more interesting than this phenomena is that Baldwin was able to recognize it in so many different types of novels. Anyone else have a favorite example of this novelists’ crutch?