You won't find Outer Maroo on any map, and the people who live there intend to keep it that way. In Janette Turner Hospital's extraordinary new novel Oyster, this bleak, drought-stricken town in the Australian outback is home to a scant handful of religious fundamentalists and rowdy, gun-toting opal miners. United by their dislike for taxmen, the government, and "foreigners," the inhabitants have managed to keep their town's underground riches a secret from the world--until the day when a bloody, raving, but "quite strikingly beautiful" man staggers in from the desert and changes everything: "Then Oyster came, and quite soon after, jeeps began to announce themselves in small red clouds. There were campers and squatters, and they kept arriving as the zeros on the calendar got closer; or at any rate that was the connection that Oyster himself made, and the newcomers shared his belief, and so disposed themselves for a certain kind of future, now upon us."
In the weeks to come, the charismatic Oyster draws young drifters to his commune outside town, Oyster's Reef, where they become little more than slave labor in the Reef's opal fields. Seduced by his apocalyptic rhetoric or corrupted by his money, the town enters into a strange complicity with the mysterious guru, and anyone who dares to question the arrangement--including a local schoolteacher--conveniently disappears. Eventually, town and cult alike perish in a bloody firestorm that recalls events in Waco, Texas. Throughout, Turner Hospital expertly evokes the desert's shifting dreamscape, a land of pitiless light and heat where the atmosphere itself conspires to create illusion; narrated by a shifting cast of characters, moving back and forth in time, this eerie, hypnotic book often seems much the same way. [via]