Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff is the first novel by actor, director, and producer Sean Penn. Penn, who has a reputation as being an outspoken and controversial figure in Hollywood, has seemingly slowed down his brazenness after the early 2010’s earthquake in Haiti. Like so many natural disasters in impoverished areas, Haiti took time to heal. Arguably, it took more time than it should have because of the lacking amount of help that first-world nations.
Luckily for Haiti, Sean Penn was receptive to helping after the earthquake, especially after witnessing the life-saving medicine that had helped his own son after his accident. For those listening, reports of amputations done sans-anesthesia were harrowing, and Penn refused to stand for it when he heard the reports. His humanitarian efforts easily are part of what shaped his current political views.
These views are more potent than ever in Bob Honey but come to the reader as aggressive satire. While many other contemporary authors try to address politics in a cool, collected, memoirish way (think Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), Penn goes straight for Hunter S. Thompson-style, almost drug-induced hysteria. From the initial police reports that accompany the beginning of the book to the sing-songy, nursery rhyme-like end, there is nothing stable about the narrative of this anti-hero.
And anti-hero he absolutely is, as he at no point renders any sort of lasting sympathy for himself. While there are glimpses of sympathy for him – like at the beginning of the novel when he is continually getting the police called on him for acting erratically or when he witnesses his first lover (it is pertinent to note that she is African American) getting taken from him. This continued police state that makes itself known throughout the book is enough to make anyone, even as cruel a character as Bob Honey, look like a saint.
But then come the not-so-savory parts of Bob. These parts become part of Bob’s being from the time that he opens his mouth to the time that the book concludes. Bob’s tone is psychotic – a rambling, floridly embellished run-on sentence that seems to scream “I was made this way.” No blame is to befall the protagonist, even when he is witnessed systematically murdering men, women, children, and seniors. Indeed, it appears Bob was made that way by the characters and the governments that contribute to the continuously dystopian society within the novel.
Being called a satire by the author does not necessarily mean that it is received as all by satire. When it comes to men and the actions which they commit upon others, this certainly is satire. Penn would never intentionally approve the actions of the government, especially after being an outspoken opponent of Trump every step of the way. Especially considering his ties to the impoverished countries that Bob Honey mocks within the book, satire is almost highlighted with a bright yellow marker. Everything is so over-the-top that to consider it otherwise would be a sincere misreading.
Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff shows itself to be a very passionate look at the problems currently facing our political structure. He manages to point out that we are killing our own people and turning our gaze elsewhere, among several political atrocities. Taking its own bizarre twist on sympathy, this book also begs upper-class Americans to consider their impact on the lower class as well as those who are not white.
Sean Penn’s actions, though noble, accidentally pointed out the larger problem of racism in American culture: You are either an iteration of Bob Honey, or you are a white savior. Much like his humanitarian efforts in Haiti, this book was a passion project. Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff is another iteration of Gonzo-era literature that relies on satire to tackle the absurdities that plague our time.
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