‘My Flamboyant Grandson’ by George Saunders

My Flamboyant Grandson by George Saunders, 2002

The magic trick:

Painting the characters with equal parts kindness and cruelty

Early in the story our well-intentioned narrator tells his grandson, “The size of this stage will make that little stage I built you behind the garage look pathetic.”

It’s basically the perfect George Saunders summation.

We have a character who has a really good heart. He wants nothing more than for his grandson to be happy. He built him a stage behind the garage!

But he’s just not smart enough. Or maybe not rich enough. Or something. It’s just not quite where it needs to be.

Even as he is showing his grandson such great generosity, such a wonderful new experience; even as he is doing that, he has to slander his own previous gesture (the stage at home) in contrast.

I can’t think of an author who so effectively exposes his protagonists as simultaneously sweet and pathetic. It’s a wonderful combination.

And that’s quite a trick on Saunders’s part.

The selection:

As we entered the magnificent lobby of the Eisner Theatre, I was in good spirits, saying to Teddy, The size of this stage will make that little stage I built you behind the garage look pathetic, when suddenly we were stopped by a stern young fellow (a Mr. Ernesti, I believe) who said, We are sorry, sir, but you cannot be admitted on merely a Promissory Voucher, are you kidding us, you must take your Voucher and your Proof of Purchases from at least six of our Major Artistic Sponsors, such as AOL, such as Coke, and go at once to the Redemption Center, on Forty-fourth and Broadway, to get your real actual tickets, and please do not be late, as latecomers cannot be admitted, due to special effects which occur early, and which require total darkness in order to simulate the African jungle at night.

Well, this was news to me, but I was not about to disappoint the boy.

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