I finally got around to reading _Them_, a novel by Joyce Carol Oates, after buying it from a used bookstore about 15 years ago. It's a slog, because Oates is a wonderful writer, but all of the characters are stunted and runty. What keeps me going is the struggle of disadvantaged people who never had opportunity to acquire the physical and mental skills to improve their lot in life. It is something that you rarely find in highly successful creative work: a story about the rule rather than the exception. Most highly successful novels, nonfiction, music, television, film, etc. are about the extremely rare exceptions who become mega-successes. This creates the illusion that anyone can become a mega-success--an illusion that has become an entertainment trope--and leads too many people to blame themselves for not being exceptional. A gritty, realistic work about failures is a good corrective to that phenomenon, even if people do read novels in order to take a break from life and dream, so that a novel about failures is unlikely to have much circulation.