The actor Sean Penn has always been a vocal and dynamic supporter of a number of social causes. Social justice and equality have been closely linked to the two-time Academy Award winner for years. Which is all to say, the volatile Penn has always had an opinion and he’s never shied away from sharing it. At times, he’s appeared quite proud of this reputation for provocation and controversy. Why else would a successful actor seek out interviews with the likes of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez or the notorious drug lord El Chappo? Controversial figures aside, Penn was also an early and tireless crusader for earthquake-ravaged Haiti, creating the J/P Relief Organization to fund and enable ongoing relief efforts.
Penn has now funneled all that energy into writing. His first novel, as complex and intriguing as the actor himself, was released this past spring and is entitled Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff. The title alone should be an indication of the circuitous and fascinating journey readers can expect. It is the story of septic-tank salesman Bob Honey, who happens to spend his free-time as a paid assassin for the U.S. government, told with Penn’s own brand of sardonic humor and irony.
The novel, born out of the 2016 election, alludes to certain real-life figures and movements, such as President Trump and #MeToo, but Penn has taken pains to remind readers that it is, in fact, fiction. “I think, we’re in a sad state where fiction is attributed to opinion … where fiction can’t be just read as it is.” That seems to be his way of saying ignore the controversies and let the story take you on a ride.
Penn dictated most of the novel, writing the rest in long-hand, and he enjoyed the process so much, free from the interference inherent in the collaborative world of film-making, he is already contemplating a follow-up. Penn used the freedom of fiction to place Bob Honey’s sometimes amoral actions into the context of an American society rapidly changing, and, whatever criticisms may come, Penn is aware that those opinions are the reflections of that person, not his own work. The novel is on bookshelves now.