I won’t lie to you. I wasn’t going to read Love and Potato Salad until I read the press quotes on the back of the book. Riddled with jokes but also, quite possibly, real exclamations from shocked readers (“‘Your novel is extremely offensive. Any further attempts to contact any members of our staff for any reason, and we will be forced to inform the proper authorities’ – Today’s Women Christian Faith Magazine”), I knew that I had to find out what this shit show was all about. I was surprised to find that not only did I genuinely enjoy the absurdity of this book, I found it intelligent as well.
Jason Thomas Smith’s self-published 2022 release is the unrequited love story of the beautiful Sally Jones and the tragic Sparky Ganja. Much like a Shakespearean tragedy, we know the ending right at the beginning. There is a terrible event that takes Sparky Ganja’s life at the Jones Family Barbecue — we just need to figure out how it happens. And we do that by following Chip, an interdimensional omniscient narrator with a whole slew of addictions but a gentle heart.
Through time-travel, meet-cutes and astute, if flawed, narration by Chip, readers are able to absorb every angle of the story. In what was a fantastic choice on Smith’s part, Chip’s all-knowing commentary allows readers to feel as if they’re floating above the plotline much like the alien spaceships that eventually make their appearance. Yes. Alien spaceships.
As you can probably already tell, this novel is filled with ridiculous situations. Somehow, Smith has combined potato salad, drug cartels, aliens, and the familiar passive aggression of your average Midwestern family into one novel, but it never feels disjointed. Rather, Smith’s engrossing prose assures the reader that everything will become connected by the end of the book. And he does not disappoint. It’s a wild ride, but it’s a pleasurable one.
And not only does Smith connect the dots, he also manages to deliver airtight commentary on fate and inevitability. Set against the chaotic backdrop of impending doom to Sparky Ganja, these moments of existential reflection are refreshing and help us contextualize the chaos.
But Love and Potato Salad is not for the faint of heart. While we are able to level with Chip and the other characters in this book in a human way, we also see their very human “flaws.” Sex addiction, binge drinking, drugs, and rough language are the hinges many jokes rely on. While they get easier to forgive as the narrative unfolds, this book may not be fit for squeamish readers.
But raunchy humor aside, Love and Potato Salad feels folky even in its modernity. Smith has created a well-balanced tale of love, heartbreak and fate, even if he relies on potato salad more than your average author. If you’re a fan of Chuck Palahniuk or Thomas Pynchon, you might just like this one. Bonus points if you’ve studied English in college and can pick up on the subtle literary jabs sprinkled throughout. And I can only imagine this book becomes a whole new experience if you spark up a little ganja to go with it.
This article was originally published in Little Village’s December 2022 issues.