“Royal Beatings,” one of Munro’s best-known stories, reveals the bonds of love and hate, brutalities great and small, within a family. Nothing is simple in this story, which features a surprisingly intricate plot as well as convoluted time and tense shifts. It begins late in the Depression years in the poorest section of Hanratty, where Rose lives with her father and stepmother, Flo, behind their grocery and furniture repair store. One day Flo relates an account of a previous thrashing, when three young men attacked the father of the grotesque dwarf Becky Tyde, who sometimes visits the store. The child Rose cannot fit Flo’s story together with her present life, for they seem unrelated.
Flo’s tale foreshadows a second beating, this time suffered by the preteen Rose—a brutal ritual which builds, erupts, and then collapses. When Rose talks back to her stepmother once too often, Flo goads Rose’s father into punishing her. The narrative shifts into present tense to render a horrific account of the first “royal beating” that cheeky Rose endures, then switches to future tense to describe the ritual that will follow: a repentant Flo coming to her room to bring a salve for her back, a tray of food, chocolate milk. Years later, the adult Rose sees a television interview with an elderly man from Hanratty, someone from Flo’s story, and is finally able to connect the strands of the past to the present.