Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff
|Published||2018 (Atria Books)|
Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff is a satirical novel written by Sean Penn. Narrated from the point of view of Pappy Pariah, the book tells the story of Bob Honey, a supposed international assassin who kills elderly people with a mallet. Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, published the novel on March 27, 2018.
In several interviews, Penn said that he was inspired to write the novel in response to current political movements including the Parkland survivors working to change gun laws. Although readers can draw connections to modern events and figures, Penn claims that the book is about morality and modern American culture.
With no formal plot, it is not entirely clear if Honey's life story, recounted through Pariah, is supposed to be true or a figment of Honey's delusional mind. Honey lives in a quiet street in Woodview, California. Since his divorce, he has a hard time connecting with other people and annoys his neighbors with his lawn mowing. Honey complains of the incessant marketing of modern society and never-ending news cycles. His ex-wife, who drives an ice-cream truck around his neighborhood, is now happily married to her divorce lawyer. Honey now longs for a young woman named Annie described as "Effervescence lived in her every cellular expression, and she had spizzerinctum to spare."
Honey is a former septic tank salesman who becomes an assassin. He tries to be more social, throwing a barbecue for his neighbors. His job as a contract killer for a secretive government program takes him around the world. The off-the-books government program instructs him to target elderly citizens and others who drain resources in a consumption-driven society. His adventures include a trip to New Orleans to help Katrina victims. He travels to Baghdad, Beirut, South Sudan, and other locations for sewage emergencies. Honey also submerges himself into the Pacific Ocean in a quest to find sea life. An investigative journalist starts asking questions about him, causing Honey to start making changes in his life. He is threatened by an ever-invasive media and possible assassination attempts from his mysterious controllers.
The book includes an epilogue featuring a poem that touches on current events — the Las Vegas mass shooting, North Korea, and Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and the #MeToo movement. Honey also writes a threatening letter to the US President "Mr. Landlord" in which he advocates for the President's assassination. He declares, "You are not simply a president in need of impeachment, you are a man in need of an intervention. We are not simply a people in need of an intervention, we are a nation in need of an assassin [...] Tweet me bitch, I dare you." The lengthy epilogue poem ends with Honey killing the investigative journalist with his mallet and running away to parts unknown.
- Pappy Pariah – Born in the fictional town Summerton Feathers, Iowa in 1960, Pappy Pariah is the author of the audiobook version of Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff. Pappy is both the narrator of the book and the pseudonym for Sean Penn who claimed to have met Pappy in Florida. Pappy claims to have written articles for mainstream American news outlets under a pseudonym himself, but this is his first novel. When he was 13, he suffered from severe appendicitis and says this medical event was the source of his inspiration to become a writer
- Bob Honey – The title character. He is described as an angry, divorced middle-age man with a variety of jobs: sewage specialist, carnival carny, Jehovah's witness, government operative, and assassin. Bob is alienated by a media-saturated society, and has a hard time getting along with other people, especially since his divorce. The 56-year-old character has "an ultra-violent skepticism toward the messaging and mediocrity of modern times"
- The Landlord – Bob Honey writes a scathing letter to the landlord described as, "the violently immature seventy-year-old boy-man with money and French vanilla cotton candy hair". When asked about the "Trumpian" Landlord character, Penn has maintained that it is up to the reader to interpret the metaphors he develops in the book.
A portion of the novel was first published as a free Audible book, listing Pappy Pariah as the author and Penn as just the narrator of the audio book. Initially, Penn denied being the author of the book, insisting instead that it was written by an author he had met in a bar in Key West, Florida.
In press junkets to promote the novel's release, Penn has stated his wish to quit acting and become a full-time novelist.
Novelist Salman Rushdie praised the novel, saying "It seems wrong to say that so dystopian a novel is great fun to read [...] I suspect that Thomas Pynchon and Hunter S. Thompson would love this book." Travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux also came out in favor of the book, calling it "Comic, cauchemaresque, crackling with life [...] Bob Honey is a hero of our Trumpian times reflected in the cracked mirror of Penn's prose. I loved that it defied the critics who are, as always like eunuchs in a harem observing the creative act but unable to do the same."
Bob Honey was met with generally negative reviews, with several critics decrying the writer's undisciplined style. Mark Athitakis writing for The Washington Post was critical of the book, observing that the satire was not humorous and the writing incoherent with overuse of alliteration. Writing for the National Review, Jonah Goldberg had not yet read the book but commented on excerpts, characterizing the formulaic prose as "4 parts alliteration, 1 part wry masturbation references." Goldberg's comments were based on a review and quotes provided by Claire Fallon of HuffPost who herself was highly critical of the book, going so far as to announce that "Sean Penn The Novelist Must Be Stopped".
Penn has defended portions of the book concerning the Trump presidency and the Me Too movement as being "taken out of context: 'I think, we're in a sad state where fiction is attributed to opinion ... where fiction can't be just read as it is.'" Several media sources have interpreted "Mr. Landlord" as an allegorical reference to Donald Trump. According to the BBC News, "Critics were keen to pick up on Mr Landlord, a character that could be a thinly veiled dig at Donald Trump. He is described as a 'violently immature 70-year-old boy-man with money and French vanilla cotton candy hair'."
Trevor Noah, on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, described the book as "a strange story that seems like a metaphor for real life." Penn told Marc Maron in his podcast, WTF, that the novel Bob Honey was a way for him to combat negativity and societal burnout the actor has been dealing with. "It was an exercise in avoiding defeat," he told Maron. "It's kind of 'operating world humor,' because I felt like a surgeon whose patient was inevitable going to die every day. And I thought, let me go practice this in an alternate reality form which got me away from the news for a while."
- Truitt, Brian (March 27, 2018). "Sean Penn's freaky debut novel 'Bob Honey' is a Trump-era satire". USA Today. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
- "Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff".
- "Episode 901 – Sean Penn / Lynn Shelton" (Podcast). WTF Podcast with Marc Maron. March 26, 2018. Retrieved June 1, 2018.
- Jason Diamond (April 4, 2018). "Sean Penn: Why I Had to Write 'Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff'". Rolling Stone.
- Giles, Jeff (March 27, 2018). "Sean Penn, Satirist, Swings at America in a Wild Debut Novel". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
- Athitakis, Mark (November 7, 2016). "What exactly is Sean Penn's role in the mysterious 'Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff'?". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
- Smith, Tracy (March 25, 2018). "Sean Penn: The actor turns a page". CBS News. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
- "Sean Penn responds to haters of his novel saying 'I'm 57 and my pool's heated'". The Independent. March 30, 2018. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
- Brian Truitt (March 27, 2018). "Sean Penn's freaky debut novel 'Bob Honey' is a Tr**p-era satire". USA Today.
- Cain, Sian (March 19, 2018). "'We're a nation in need of an assassin': Sean Penn's debut novel set to take on Tr**p". the Guardian. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
- Miller, Mike (March 27, 2018). "Sean Penn Slams Tr**p Era with New Controversial Book: 'We're a Nation in Need of an Assassin'". People. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
- Loughrey, Clarisse (March 29, 2018). "'Cloaked in crazy': Sean Penn's debut novel ripped apart by critics". The Independent. Retrieved May 1, 2018.
- Sean Penn (March 27, 2018). Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff: A Novel. Simon and Schuster.
- Schaub, Michael (November 14, 2017). "Sean Penn will publish his first novel, 'Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff,' next year". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
- Lawrence, Derek (October 7, 2016). "Sean Penn Performs Live Reading of Novel, Which He May or May Not Have Written". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved March 28, 2018.
- Seymour, Corey (April 6, 2018). "Sean Penn Would Rather Write Than Act". Vogue. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
- "Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff". Simon & Schuster.
- Perez, Lexy (March 29, 2018). "Sean Penn's Novel, 'Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff': What the Critics Are Saying". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
- Athitakis, Mark (March 27, 2018). "What is Sean Penn thinking? His debut novel is a mess, again". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
- Goldberg, Jonah (March 28, 2018). "Sean Penn Tries Writing". National Review. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
- Fallon, Claire (March 27, 2018). "Sean Penn The Novelist Must Be Stopped". Huffington Post. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
- Diamond, Jason (April 4, 2018). "Sean Penn: Why I Had to Write 'Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 15, 2018.
- Ernst, Douglas (March 15, 2018). "Sean Penn novel 'Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff' includes Trump allegory, assassination threat". The Washington Times. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- Orosz, Nora-Grayce (March 20, 2018). "Sean Penn's Debut Novel Takes Aim at Trump: 'You Are a Man in Need of an Intervention'". Complex. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- Wiseman, Andreas (March 20, 2018). "Sean Penn's Debut Novel Set To Take On Donald Trump & #MeToo". Deadline. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- "Sean Penn book is trashed by critics". BBC News. March 28, 2018. Retrieved April 30, 2018.
- "Sean Penn – Following His Muse With "Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff" – Extended Interview". Comedy Central. March 27, 2018. Retrieved June 1, 2018.