Literature 101: Defining Elements of the “Sad Grandpa” Fiction Genre
The Sad Grandpa genre transcends both fiction and nonfiction but is particularly enschmalzed among the scarf-clad cafe laptop literati newly affected by A) a recent death in the family, or B) one’s first trip to Europe.
As such, the limits to which the Sad Grandpa genre bloats in both scope and sentimentality have egregiously stretched. Despite its broad-stroke approach to insecurity parading as masculinity, the Sad Grandpa genre nonetheless must navigate complex structures in order to garner commercial and literary success. These structures follow.
1. One or more wars provide the linchpin for all Sad Grandpa narratives. Sad Grandpa must never actually speak about his time in this war, but his deep emotional scarring remains evident in every chapter and scene. Dog tags abound.
2. Any physical scars that result from said war must be hidden beneath shoddy, plain, or otherwise conspicuously austere clothing, only to be revealed once and once only to the Grandson Narrator, preferably in low/dramatic light. (i.e. candlelight, firelight, or the pale orange glow of the streetlight outside the two-bedroom street-level apartment Sad Grandpa shares with Grandson Narrator and Grandson Narrator’s Hardscrabble Single Mother who works two jobs and perhaps enjoys a dram of some spicy bottom-shelf bottle nightly. Her name is Helen or Angela, always. Unless Sad Grandpa is European, in which case other colloquial common female names are acceptable, so long as they are vaguely ugly, angry, and indicative of some profound past beauty that has long leeched away during the long hours at the diner/laundry/factory.)
3. Sad Grandpa must cryptically weep over a mundane photograph/painting/bit of music, unless Sad Grandpa is American (at which point it is acceptable to substitute dog tags). Obscure classical music weeping must apply only to European grandpas.
4. If Sad Grandpa is American, he must never weep to classical music. Country music is acceptable only if it is classic country. See: Hank Williams (but not his worthless son).
[N.B.: If Sad Grandpa is American, he must never, under any circumstances, weep more than one single tear that inexplicably leaks from the outside corner of his eye rather than the inside corner like a normal person. This moment of silent suffering must take place while staring out into a vast distance — preferably during a rain storm in the central plains, or as the first winter storm sweeps across a barren landscape.]
If Sad Grandpa is American, he must never, under any circumstances, weep more than one single tear that inexplicably leaks from the outside corner of his eye rather than the inside corner like a normal person.
[N.B.: American Sad Grandpa owns a rusted, off-brand shotgun that he only used once to put down a beloved dog.Throughout the narrative, Grandson Narrator will create a will-they-won’t-they rom-com relationship between Sad Grandpa and the gun, constantly dangling the threat of a dramatic suicide before the reader. By the end of American Sad Grandpa story, he will use this gun once more to bring small-town justice to an abuser/drunkard/fraud/rabid dog. Sad Grandpa will of course experience no consequences for the murder of another human being or animal.]
5. Grandson Narrator must spend early chapters as a rapscallion of sorts. He will kill a small animal during the course of the narrative but will experience profound grief over the matter and create a tenuous mental link between the dead rodent and his grandfather’s profound suffering. He will marry and divorce twice because his wives simply cannot understand the subtle nuances of masculinity.
[A note on Granddaughter Narrators: As a whole, Granddaughter Narrators have been proven more reliable and more adept at accurately analyzing the depths, causes, and ultimate consequences of Sad Grandpa’s sadness. And what’s the fun in that?]
6. Grandson narrator must unintentionally destroy a prized keepsake of Sad Grandpa’s. This will lead to a deep-seeded sense of guilt that will follow grandson to the grave. [See: Stopped Pocket Watches.]
7. Sad Grandpa married Vivacious Grandma shortly after the war. She must be dead/dying. On balance, dead is better.
8. Sad Grandpa seems to harbor deep love for his mother that borders on inappropriate. When Sad Grandpa speaks of her, he calls her by her first name and notes the color/texture of her hair/skin/voice. Related: Sad Grandpa often called Vivacious Grandma “mother.”
As a whole, Granddaughter Narrators have been proven more reliable and more adept at accurately analyzing the depths, causes, and ultimate consequences of Sad Grandpa’s sadness. And what’s the fun in that?
9. Sad Grandpa must quietly mutter an anachronistically racist phrase among a vehemently unsympathetic audience at least once in the story; narrator grandson must explain this away with cavalier caprice.
10. There must be one tangential confession per chapter. The Grandson Narrator experiences most of these. It is unclear how these instances relate to Sad Grandpa, but at least Grandson Narrator finally got that off his chest.
11. It is of course inevitable that the Grandson Narrator will profoundly misinterpret the Sad Grandpa’s existential sadness and any other characteristic to which the grandson has spent 400 pages inaccurately dissecting.
12. It will come to pass that the Grandson Narrator will internalize Sad Grandpa’s struggles as his own, and miss the point of such suffering completely while arriving at a self-serving conclusion that bears no relevance to the Sad Grandpa’s life as a whole.
The reader is then led to assume that the Sad Grandpa just wanted the goddamn kids to leave him alone for a few minutes, is that too much to ask?