Ring Road by Ian Sansom Harper Perennial $120 The town at the centre of Ring Road may be fictional and unnamed but it's recognisable and familiar - not unlike the people who inhabit it. In this Northern Ireland everytown, referred to by an anonymous narrator as 'our town', conglomerates threaten family-owned businesses and everyone is a character, including the sandwich magnate, the Christian rocker, the frustrated newspaper editor and the do-gooder. There's also big Davey Quinn, the seventh son of a seventh son who comes home after 20 years. The prodigal's return, coupled with a scene involving a broken windscreen wiper, offers a humorous start to the novel. But soon it's evident this is just one of many comic vignettes, with nary a plot to bind them, let alone sustain interest. Ian Sansom is the first to acknowledge 'there are no themes that I'm aware of'. The admission is slightly disingenuous. Patchwork binds the asides, ramblings and leads that go nowhere, forming an impression of big-city life in a small-town setting. If only there was a point to the exercise.