Sean Penn's Novel, 'Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff': What the Critics Are Saying

Though the actor is attempting to venture into a new role as an author, critics are urging him to "never quit his day job."
Courtesy of Atria Books

Sean Penn may be an Academy Award-winning actor, but does penning a debut novel make him a worthy contender as the next best author? Critics say: Don’t get your hopes up.

The reviews are in for the actor’s Trump-era satirical novel, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, released last Tuesday, and while some admit that it could have “had the power of a manifesto,” critics argue Penn's book falls short and is proof that he should “never quit his day job," despite claiming to be done with acting

The plot of Penn's debut novel centers on a septic tank salesman turned assassin whose weapon of choice is a mallet. The story's protagonist also sends a threatening letter to a fictional president, something that could allude to Penn's public distaste for Trump, whose immigration comments the actor slammed in a recent op-ed

New York Times’ Jeff Giles describes Penn’s "un-fun" book as a “a riddle wrapped in an enigma and cloaked in crazy,” for it lacks any "formal plot." Though Penn makes a subtle jab at Trump with the line “You are not simply a president in need of impeachment, you are a man in need of an intervention,” Giles suggests that the novel was categorized as a satire as a means to avoid the “Secret Service pulling up.” 

USA Today's Brian Truitt is critical of Penn's new career venture, saying that the actor has accomplished nothing, but leaving readers to sort through a “frustrating writing style” and “a mixed bag of nuts that are hard to crack.” 

The Guardian’s Sain Cain shares similar sentiments, reviewing the book as “repellent on one level, but stupid on so many others.” Cain also argues that instead of abiding by the “reality” of grammatical rules and proper diction as we know, Penn simply “swings and cracks a hole,” leaving readers to follow a prose that is “more reminiscent of bot than man."

In his review, The Washington Post's Mark Athitakis blunty urges the actor to “never quit his day job.” Athitakis further emphasizes that Penn's writing is nothing but proof that “his head is filled with fantasies of an attractive young girlfriend, a gig setting off fireworks for a South American strongman and chaos on the streets during the Republican National Convention.” 

Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg of the National Review claims that though Penn’s book is the “worst writing” he’s been acquainted with for awhile, his attempt at being an author is “brave." Goldberg considers Penn a “fantastic actor,” but an unnatural writer. Of Penn's two ventures, Goldberg writes, "[Acting] comes naturally to him. He’s tried writing. I’m sure he worked very hard at it." 

Finding no leniency in Penn's attempt whatsoever is The Huffington Post’s Claire Fallon, who states her take on what she describes as a “garbage novel.” “Often when critics compare a novel to a ‘fever dream,’ they mean it as a compliment, conveying that the book creates its own otherworldly universe and dream logic," Fallon writes. "When I say that Bob Honey is reminiscent of a fever dream, I mean that it’s nonsensical, unpleasant and left me sweaty with mingled horror and confusion.”

Throughout the novel, Penn attempts to touch on current issues he has expressed frustration with, such as the #MeToo movement, tensions between the police force and people of color, and having Trump serve as president. While aiming to make a statement, Fallon argues that Penn fails, because he continuously makes “comedic hay out of violence against women” and refers to them as “objects of ridicule.”

Fallon’s consensus of Penn's attempt to share his frustrations through his novel?  “The next time Matt Damon or Gary Oldman or, God forbid, Alec Baldwin decides that he has a novel in him, publishers can just say no.”