Sean Penn’s literary debut earlier this year has had reviewers and readers alike scratching their heads about how exactly to receive it. Bob Honey Who Just do Stuff is the tale of one Bob Honey, a reclusive divorcee who works in waste management in suburban California while also operating as a secret agent tasked with assassinating the elderly. Through the one-hundred-sixty-page book, Bob Honey has the opportunity to interact with and comment on Penn’s version of modern America—from partying with an El Chapo stand-in aboard the drug dealer’s yacht, to writing a scathing letter to “Mr. Landlord,” the president of the United States.
For the USA Today, Penn’s stylistic choices overshadow the story of Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff; both his “addiction to alliteration” and his verbosity are hurdles they see getting in the way of some readers getting through his tale. Entertainment Weekly labels Penn’s prose as “sticky and overwrought.” Moreover, both sources find that it can be difficult to separate Bob Honey from the writer himself, especially given what the sources see as a thin layer of satire pervading the tale. Both are Baby Boomers and the USA Today sees the novel as Penn’s “loud, angry, absurdist response to the state of the world.”
Bob’s letter to “Mr. Landlord” works toward emasculating the president and references various real-world situations in the effort. The epilogue consists of a poem that touches on various current issues: the shooting in Las Vegas, the #MeToo movement, and the tension between the U.S. and North Korea. The poem criticizes the nature of the movement as “infantilizing” and “reckless,” and touches on a topic that is personal to Penn. Both Madonna and Lee Daniels accused Penn of assault during their marriages, though both recanted their accusations.
Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff touches on controversial and heated topics and has thus split readers about how to interpret it and on how it reflects on Penn himself. But Penn had expected this: “Some people, I think, will really enjoy it, others will loathe it. And… and that really is what I’d like to say about me, you know?”