“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,” writes Slate’s Rosecrans Baldwin in an excellent piece on the distant-barking-dog trope.
Baldwin scoured the Western canon for books containing variations on the phrase “somewhere a dog barked” and came up with almost too many examples to count.
After acknowledging a few that he enjoys from writers like Vonnegut, Woolf, and Eggers, Baldwin argues that “most authors, however, employ the trope as a narrative rest stop, an innocuous way to fill space and time.”
Anyone who did any of their high school English reading knows what he’s talking about. Nighttime. The main character’s alone or lost or waiting anxiously. A dog barks. Baldwin says that, in some cases, the bark becomes a blank canvas for the reader on which to project whatever they think the mood of the scene might be.
He also puts forth the humorous idea that perhaps it’s a meme, passed from one great writer to another. Or a subconscious detail so strong that it’s impossible for writers (like himself) not to include it.
Sidenote: does Baldwin realize how awesome his name is? Rosecrans? I mean, come on.