"Royal Beatings" by Alice Munro

“I’m not an intellectual writer. I’m very, very excited by what you might call the surface of life, and it must be that this seems to me very meaningful in a way I can’t analyze or describe. . . . It seems to me very important to be able to get at the exact tone or texture of how things are.”
—Alice Munro in an interview with Graeme Gibson

Munro has an ability that I have always admired, that of being able to articulate and describe experiences commonplace to everyday life in a way that gives the reader a new awareness of those experiences.

I thought Munro struck a nice balance in this story. She didn’t completely demonize Flo nor Rose’s father. She story begins with Flo scolding Rose harshly, which caused me to expect that Flo would be characterized as harsh throughout. And Flo’s reaction to the anecdote of Rose’s mother’s death rather supports that thought. But Munro makes clear the admiration that Rose has for her stepmother and the kindness and consideration that Flo can show Rose. Constrastly, Rose’s father seems a quiet, solitary, gentle type, crafting fine furniture for people but charging them very little. One doesn’t expect a man who scribbles a quotation from Spinoza to explode the way that her father does.

I found Munro’s observations about Rose’s emotional state after her beating interesting.

Suppose she dies now? Suppose she commits suicide? Suppose she runs away? Any of those things would be appropriate. It is only a matter of choosing, of figuring out the way. She floats in her superior state as if kindly drugged.


Flo comes into the room without knocking, but with a hesitation that shows it might have occurred to her. She brings a jar of cold cream. Rose is hanging onto advantage as long as she can, lying face down on the bed, refusing to acknowledge or answer.

This suggestion that a beating actually empowers the victim in some small way was something I hadn’t really considered previously.