Hollywood actor and director Sean Penn stepped away from the big screen to write his first novel, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff. Since hitting bookstores, critics have described Penn’s novel as everything from “ambitious” to “utter nonsense”. Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff is, as some reviews are starting to call it, a work of dystopian fiction; but readers across the world have viewed the novel as something more innovative than that.
For as long as authors have been writing novels, we have enjoyed generational stories that capture the essence of important eras and time periods. With his first novel, Penn aimed to write such a story- a really ambitious goal. His book includes blatant references to the 2016 presidential campaign trail, hot topics in current politics and, most confusingly, a culture which Penn describes as “noise”. Readers were quick to point out that Bob, the novel’s main character, sounds a lot like Penn. It seems inappropriate to label the novel as a work of pure fiction.
In support of his debut novel, Penn appeared on late-night cable television, podcasts and magazine interviews. His descriptions of the novel weren’t quite as innovative as the novel itself. Though with well-meaning intentions, Penn spent most of his time talking about current events instead of the book. Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, and Penn’s attitude about it, is so committed to “current events” that it reads as a pointed satire. The author appears totally unafraid to lose friends over his beliefs.
Others have pointed out the novel’s rambunctious use of language itself. Before reading, everyone should know that all manner of swearing is popular throughout the book. But, more importantly, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff is a wild display of alliteration; on several occasions, Penn sacrificed meaning and clarity for poetic word choice. The result is innovative, but it’s earned Penn a lot of criticism on a wider scale from the literary establishment. Penn’s naysayers view the language is irresponsible and the result of a Hollywood actor making a transition into a world he doesn’t understand.
Still, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff is an important novel that brings a positive message to popular culture. Above all, Penn is using his debut novel to inspire people into using their voices. He’s used his publicity tour to showcase the efforts of young, new voices in the United States. It’s unclear if he has missed the mark in producing a generational classic, but Penn’s novel is certainly the kind of work that inspires others to stand for their beliefs. Politics aside, that’s more than most contemporary novels are doing now.
Should Penn continue the life of a novelist, we may expect a more refined work in his next showing. But, for now, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff is helping Penn break ground in the way that only a first-time novelist could. As a massively innovative and political work, Penn’s novel is sure to be among the most controversial of the year.