Books: Lost in the Wilderness

A gripping tale of a cult in the Australian outback

Travelers who drive far enough into the parched interior of Australia, taking care to lug extra fuel, water and minor spare parts, enter a region of outback so distant and featureless that it lies beyond the reassuring certitude of maps. So says Australian novelist Janette Turner Hospital at the outset of her grim, millennial novel Oyster (Norton; 400 pages; $25.95). Such travelers--an Australian father, say, and an American stepmother, joining forces to track down backpacking adult children who had disappeared months before--would soon become disoriented. Even in their car they would be dazed by heat and a pervading stench from the...

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