Penn takes on an ambitious challenge here, and he succeeds spectacularly. Bob is a wonderful character, the kind of guy you can’t take your eyes off ... The story is convoluted, sure, and occasionally surreal, but that’s part of the book’s almost immeasurable charm.
[T]his is not a review of Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, because it is not a book that deserves to be taken seriously enough to be reviewed ... In a fair world, writing would be left to those of us who aren’t stars, but the world isn’t obligated to be fair. Penn’s book, on the other hand, is an insult. Without Penn’s fame, it never would have seen the light of day. It reads like a purely cynical exercise, from its conception, execution, publication, to that blurb from Rushdie ... he has soaked up valuable real estate at book reviewing outlets, which does crowd out a chance for readers to become familiar with actually worthy work. And here I am, spending my weekly words on Penn, rather than telling you about terrific new books like Don't Skip Out on Me by Wily Vlautin, Sunburn by Laura Lippman, Laura and Emma by Kate Greathead, and The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman. Do better than me. Ignore Penn. Read them instead.
Is it needlessly cynical to read a pompous celebrity’s very bad novel purely in order to dunk on it? Yes. But the true joke is on me, because it’s physically impossible to dunk on a novel that is already dunking on itself so hard. Bob Honey is an exercise in ass-showing, a 160-page self-own ... Nothing hangs together. 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. 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 ... Scattered throughout is the sort of gleeful racism and misogyny that qualifies Penn’s work as 'darkly comic' ... It’s not often that you read a literary novel about which the most flattering adjective you might use is 'derivative,' but such is the case here ... This is all, apparently, supposed to seem deeply witty and profound. Instead, it’s akin to the product of a postmodern literature bot. It doesn’t seem quite possible that a human person wrote this mess.
Befitting an actor whose résumé includes both Dead Man Walking and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Bob Honey is all over the place in any format, slapdash in style and structure ... May he never quit his day job; Penn delivers prose as if he were gunning for a prize from the American Alliteration Association ... Bob Honey is best appreciated as the fever dream of a boomer who watches the news, cannot make sense of it, but cannot contain his fury at it anyhow ... If only the satire were funnier, though. If only the writing were more coherent. And if only the timing were better ... Sean Penn is not up to it as a novelist, but who knows? There is always a chance for a movie.
Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff might have had the power of a manifesto. Instead, it’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma and cloaked in crazy ... To be fair, Bob Honey is perplexing and unquantifiable by design. Penn has clearly ingested the Beats, as well as Hunter S. Thompson and Chuck Palahniuk, and he evokes their trippiness to advance a sincere argument: that right now, America is enough to drive any rational, empathetic person nuts ... Still, for a wild ride, Bob Honey is conspicuously un-fun. For every perfect, plain-spoken sentence there are dozens of linguistic traffic jams where you can almost hear the words honking at each other to get out of the way ... In the evocative final pages, Penn offers a working theory of who and what Bob truly is. However, his real interest here is capturing what America has become — and taking a mallet to it.
Penn adds novelist to his résumé with polarizing results that are entertaining and maddening in equal measure ... There's also a strong satirical streak here, in which Penn is rather unsubtle with his commentary on American politics, culture and society ... Just as Bob's an enigma, so is Penn. His literary debut is a mixed bag of nuts that are hard to crack. But once you dig in, you'll find some good stuff.
So Penn’s novel is repellent on one level, but stupid on so many others. It follows Bob as he Just Do Stuff, often without much reason ... Penn doesn’t just swing and miss with his ambitious vocabulary; he swings and cracks a hole in reality as we know it, leaving us all unsure of the concept of a good sentence, how a novel should be structured and generally what makes sense any more. Words are not just misused, they are misplaced, to the point that Penn’s prose is more reminiscent of bot than man ... Penn’s novel is bad in the same way James Franco’s and Morrissey’s were bad: loudly and precociously, with a tendency to fling about big, empty words, not because it makes the writing better but because it just looks smarter, with an unashamed, almost masturbatory glee.
Penn paints with a broadly satirical, Vonnegut-ian brush throughout, though as this slender story progresses, he gives nods (by way of sly footnotes) to the likes of David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon. That story is sometimes too absurd, sometimes too labored ... the reader might be forgiven for wondering if Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High had not somehow found his way to a wayward thesaurus, a suspicion that won’t abate when the alliteration comes faster and thicker as Bob’s life becomes ever more unmoored. Still, it’s good fun, and as a bonus, Donald Trump gets a nice drubbing, too.