Sean Penn’s acting persona was built on a reputation for being opinionated and outspoken. With the release of his first novel, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, he may have found the outlet he’s been waiting for. His award-winning career, including two Oscar wins, has always gone hand-in-hand with political activism and fundraising. He’s interviewed such controversial figures as Hugo Chavez, El Chapo, and Raul Castro and has been instrumental in recovery efforts in earthquake-stricken Haiti.
The premise of the novel is every bit as convoluted and mysterious as Penn himself. The actor tells the comedic story of a septic-tank salesmen, Bob Honey, who moonlights as a hired assassin for the U.S. Government, amidst a society in transition. The New York Times called it “a riddle wrapped in an enigma and cloaked in crazy.” For Penn, the novel-writing process gave him a conduit for the constant whir of thoughts swirling around his head, free from the restraints of the more collaborative film-making process. The ideas, for Penn, came fast, so he dictated most of the book’s content, writing the rest by long-hand. He’s found the process so freeing, in fact, that he’s already bouncing around ideas for a follow-up.
Penn is also letting any concerns about selling a brand, or social issues, like the #MeToo movement, roll off his shoulders. For him, these things that other people talk about. He believes in equality and social justice, and if people connect his story to those movements, he doesn’t mind. Though certain characters in the story seemingly allude to real-life figures, Penn set out to speak not of our country’s political life but of the culture itself. The society around Bob Honey, very reflective of our own, influences the character’s actions in ways that can be unsettling and often reprehensible. Penn wraps it all in a wry, often ironic, sense of humor that has, in the past, gotten him in trouble with a Hollywood that prefers its leading men to keep quiet and sell movies. For Sean Penn, the joy of the novel’s bold satire was in sending up not only the hypocrisies of America, but his own as well.