As a reader of novels and not much else, I keep a running list of authorial whims. Male writers of the Roth/Updike generation, for example, love the word cunt. Also, where novelists once adorned their prose with offhand French bon mots, Spanish now appears. Here’s another: Novelists can’t resist including a dog barking in the distance. I’ve seen it happen across the spectrum—Jackie 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)
I checked The Grasshopper King, and nope: no barking dogs. There’s a ceramic dog, and one dog who howls (but who appears moments later, and is named) and finally, near the end, a talking dog. Me 1, cliche 0.
In other Slate literary coverage, Dan Kois reviews Ben H. Winter’s novel The Last Policeman, a detective story set in a future where Earth is six months away from certain destruction by asteroid collision. When I was in college I took Spike Lee’s screenwriting course, and my screenplay was roughly on the same theme. It was a meteor heading for the earth, not an asteroid, and the atmosphere was supposed to be roughly that of After Hours or Into the Night. It was called Planet Earth. Lee’s total commentary on the screenplay, written on page 3, was “Some parts I laughed, some parts I didn’t,” and he gave me an A-.