In the preface to them, Oates calls it "a work of history in fictional form," in fact the history of the Depression and the Detroit riots. She pretends that the character Maureen Wendall is based on one of her own students at the University of Detroit, and places "correspondence" from Maureen to a "Miss Oates" in the novel. A third- person narrator, flashbacks, vivid dialogue, fast-paced action, and a careful chronicle of two generations of the Wendall family make the novel significant, memorable, and intriguing. Another Oates technique, that of transformation or metamorphosis, is equally effective as the pretty Loretta becomes the vulgar but gritty housewife, the shy and bookish Maureen becomes the amoral prostitute and materialist. Finally the Oates sense of place—the degradation of Detroit, the ostentatious luxury of Grosse Point, the contrast between the world of privilege and the world of poverty— dramatizes the problem of survival for the unfortunate in modern America and the difficulty in believing that any kind of justice can exist in this environment.