There is little fame and less nutrition in Famous Potatoes, a novel apparently being groomed for the cult success enjoyed by a book like Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.
Cotttonwood's protagonist, Willy Middlebrock, a.k.a. Willy Crusoe, is that harmless juvenile delinquent and cut-up without whom no American suburb is complete. A middle-class upbringing and a confused mind are Willy's major possessions as he sets out to crisscross the United States in search of Life in the Raw. And he finds it, meeting lovestarved older women, mixed-up younger women, homosexuals, Philadelphia youth gangs, competing mobs in St. Louis, an eccentric prospector and many, many more. They are "the people of the humble cafes and dusty bars, underground, where life is basic." In short, these people are like potatoes - out of sight down in the dirt unless you look for them and discover their basic dignity.
After many pages of interstate highways, low-life bars, bad sides of many tracks and the occasional significant shrine (Willy sleeps on Hemingway's grave one night within sight and sound of a cheap trailer park in Ketchum, Idaho), Willy agrees that "you got to run away, cause it's so nice to come back." Coming back, however, does not mean taking up life again in his native suburb of Washington. Instead, Willy makes peace with his 15-year-old wife, and they settle into a mellow existence in California where he works as a computer programmer at a supermarket.
Like the friend who gives the same unwanted Christmas present every year, Cottonwood gives us banalities. Nothing very much is realized by Willy or the reader that they didn't already have in mind. There is no sense of progress or motion, no sense of vision or of mystery.