Sean Penn Wrote The Worst Novel In Human History, I Read It
Sean Penn recently released Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff. It is, ostensibly, a novel. Sarah Silverman compared Penn to Mark Twain and E.E. Cummings. A Kirkus reviewer equated him to Kurt Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace. Salman Rushdie declared it a book that Thomas Pynchon and Hunter S. Thompson would love, possibly because he longs for the good old days when people wanted him dead. It's telling that all these figures of comparison are incapable of disagreeing because they're either famously reclusive or dead. Having recently read Bob Honey, I am confident in declaring it the literary equivalent of renal failure.
To help you prepare yourselves, here are just a few of Penn's many atrocities against the English language (he really likes alliteration):
Evading the viscount vogue of Viagratic assaults on virtual vaginas.
Criminal crumbs and corresponding celebrity crusts, bound together by dough.
This goat-backed lioness began to hoot like a bruxism bedevilled banshee.
The (Barely Existent) Plot Is Complete Nonsense
Perhaps the only thing you need to know about Penn's book is that the brief first chapter, about three elderly people getting murdered in their retirement home, is called "Seeking Homeostasis in Inherent Hypocrisy." Penn writes like he's looked up every single word in his thesaurus except "dictionary." He uses unnecessary terms, then provides 70 footnotes to explain the definition of the unnecessary terms, because he assumes that his readers aren't at his level of intelligence. In a way, he isn't wrong.
Here's a typical sentence, in this case describing a woman: Effervescence lived in her every cellular expression, and she had spizzerinctum to spare. Penn thinks that if less is more, then more must be incredible. He writes novels like they're a high school essay he's desperate to pad.
So, about those murdered old people. We're introduced to Bob Honey, a successful but disaffected middle-aged white man who is brave enough to be suspicious of some aspects of modern American life. Bob worked in waste management, and while selling his services in Iraq during the American occupation, he became convinced to kill elderly Americans for the government because ... well, there's no actual explanation, because Penn has taken the creative approach of not giving his hero any personality or traits. Penn then boldly satirizes the Iraq War by pointing out that it was sometimes violent, and holy shit you guys, some people may have profited from that violence. It's an interesting observation if these are the first words you've read since 2003.
Now, you might be thinking, "OK, that doesn't sound very profound, but it's still reasonable to critique the Iraq War, right?" To which I'd respond that Penn refers to the Pentagon as "the five-sided puzzle palace," then provides a footnote that clarifies he means "the Pentagon."
From there, we learn that the American government feels threatened by old people who don't buy enough branded products. The only real plot point is that the NSA, a covert section of the EPA, and a bunch of conservative foundations are working together on these old people murders because the removal of the flatulence they contribute to the environment allows businesses to pollute more. Way to tackle America's problems head on, Sean Penn.
After agreeing to help the government kill old people for no good reason, Bob's wanderings of America and the world eventually cause him to reach the incredible realization that killing people is bad and that, holy shit, America might be bad too. So Bob tries and fails to kill a Trump stand-in while rescuing his 20-something girlfriend who has all the character development of a calculator with "BOOBS" written on it. And that's it. Penn wrote a series of incoherent angry tweets about America, then stretched them out to novel length with shit like this:
Behind decorative gabion walls, an elderly neighbor sits centurion on his porch watching Bob with surreptitious soupcon. Bob sees this. Feels fucked by his own face.
Sean Penn Never Learned What Satire Is
The idea that the government is killing old people doesn't have a point; it's just there, because it's something bad people would do and grr, the government is bad. The whole book is full of that kind of vapid pseudo-criticism. Sean Penn is a man who looked at the world and its many issues in all of their incredible complexity and reached conclusions like maybe the media ... might be influencing what we think about! Have you considered that marketing might be ... trying to manipulate you? What if politicians ... sometimes lie? And technology ... could it have ... downsides? It's baby's first hot take, written at the tender age of 57. Here, for example, is what Penn has to say about millennials:
Adderall and advertisers' chickens had come home to roost. Bob felt from feline millennials the transmissions of Instagrams blitzingly blazing from all directions ... No one spoke to anyone, and when they did, it was more about those anthropomorphic arrows than it was the natural air of organically human traverse ... An age group so lost to letters and steeped in transactional sex, it seemed of them that they distinguished little between an active orgasm and an acted one.
Wow, sick burn. Penn careens from "selfies are dumb" to two paragraphs on gun control to a brief aside on why hunting is bad to long stretches during which nothing happens and no point is made. It's as if Penn thought that slam poetry was the result of getting one's penis slammed in a car door.
He compares people who buy stuff (nothing in particular, just stuff) to sheep, and then, in case you somehow weren't getting it, declares: "BAHHH-BAHHH-BILDERBERG." What do you have to say about marketing, Sean? "Branding is being! Branding is being! The algorithm of modern binary existentialism." He even talks about ice cream trucks like he can't get through a single conversation without bragging about his IQ: "The music of an ice cream truck sells sweetness, but its wares are cold and fattening." But it's Trump and his voters where Penn is at his least elegant:
Between the id and the superego, the sheep had traded a love of their own children for the chance to cry, "Look at me! I'm a pisser on a tree!" Ouch goes the human heart. Out comes the orator's brain-fart, this Jesus of Jonestown, this blind man to Newtown, spits bile aplenty, to bitch us all down.
So many words haven't been used to say so little since Ayn Rand was working. The greatest insight Penn can muster up is calling Trump "Mein Drumpf" and "Mr. Landlord," before declaring "Sir, I challenge you to duel. Tweet me, bitch. I dare you." My cat has stepped on my keyboard and accidentally sent tweets that are more politically insightful. And it gets worse, because ...
Sean Penn Thinks It's Deep To Use Racial Slurs
Bob Honey isn't some brilliant subversion of conservative Americans. It's a rambling polemic for how Penn sees America, mixed with the satirical equivalent of eating a child because you think that Swift guy was onto something. So it's not super great that the only Mexican characters are drug dealers who love tacos and tequila. Or that Penn uses the term "Jew-speak." Or that the main gang of Iraq War profiteers and senior murderers are cannibalistic Papua New Guineans who wear grass skirts and use blow guns.
Nothing says profound criticism of modern America like "What if a bunch of stereotypical immigrants are the cause of our problems? And then that's it, there's no insightful twist?" The Guinean leader says things like "Caught me a case of kuru! I crackin' a grizz, my bruva," because Sean Penn is systematically working to convince us that literacy was a mistake.
There's a thin line between satirizing racial issues and just being racist, and Penn took a giant dump on that line when he wrote the following in the middle of his closing anti-Trump manifesto. I apologize in advance to like eight different groups of people for exposing you to this:
"You want to kill me because I don't really believe we're the 'best' country in the world? ... You want to kill me, you boogeymen and women, you worshippers of tits, ass, and beefcake, you snivelling, vomitus, kike-, nigger-, towelhead-, and wetback-hating, faggot-fearing colostomy bags of humanity?"
Hey Sean, it's actually possible to critique Trump and racial issues without dropping slurs like you got a bulk deal on them at Costco. And somehow, that's not even the worst part.
Shockingly, Sean Penn Might Have Some Issues With Women
Penn has a long history of alleged domestic abuse, and while I'm not saying that he has issues with women, he seems to be saying that himself. Bob's ex-wife is described as a "chubby fuckin' redhead whose ghost still whorishly haunts his bed." In reference to a black woman Bob had a crush on, Penn writes: "He thought of her beauty and the lure of her shaved and shapely cinnamon sticks standing at the trailer's screen door." Oh, and here's what he has to say about women with the audacity to destroy America by using makeup: "Had she traded the mythology of her modesty for cosmetic self-awareness? Getting older in America is tough on a woman; seeing what she'll do to avoid it is tough on a man."
Then there's Bob's girlfriend, Annie, whose traits include being great at taking dick from Bob and really liking Bob. She has no personality, no desires, no opinions. What we do know is that "She may have even been too young. But Bob never bothered himself with those distinctions." And when Annie writes Bob a note, she signs it: "My love and vagina (on your team)."
Other female characters include a bad young mother, a volunteer who gets drunk on the job, a waitress who is described as an "undernourished nymphomaniac," and a "lesbo-leaning lunatic" who almost shits herself. There's also an "awful chimera" who does shit herself while falling overboard and getting eaten by "fifty frenzied sharks (adios, amiga)," in one of several instances of Penn using violence against women for comedy. I think I've discovered Penn's fetish, and it's women getting hurt and shitting themselves. If you aren't already turned off, allow me to forever ruin sex for you with Penn at his most sensual:
What a magical vagina, Bob thought, after exploring it for hours.
"Good vagina. Maybe more Vietnam." (Note: "Vietnam" is what Penn calls pubic hair.)
Tedious trickling of cold cunt soup.
Now here's a fun excerpt from the, ugh, five-and-a-half-page poem that ends the novel:
Where did all the laughs go?
Are you out there, Louis C.K.?
Once crucial conversations
Kept us on our toes;
Was it really in our interest
To trample Charlie Rose?
And what's with this 'Me Too'?
This infantizing term of the day ...
Is this a toddler's crusade?
Reducing rape, slut-shaming, and suffrage to reckless child's play?
A platform for accusation impunity?
Due process has lost its sheen?
Again, there's no satire here. Other parts of the poem are serious complaints about issues like mass shootings. Penn just got to the end of a novel that he clearly took less time to write than most people spend crafting SpongeBob memes, and spent a half-second thinking, "Hey, what if it was actually bad that a 76-year-old millionaire was fired for repeatedly harassing women?" And then he zooms on, like a philosophical hit and run. He wants to offer half-assed commentary on everything he's ever glimpsed in the news. And that, I think, is because ...
Sean Penn Desperately Wants To Sound Smart
The New York Times called Penn's book "a riddle wrapped in an enigma and cloaked in crazy." I have a simpler explanation: It sucks. "Riddle" implies that there's something clever to be gleaned from it. There isn't. It's public masturbation. Penn quotes and references Herodotus, Norman Mailer, Inmar Berman, Jack Kerouac, Phil Ochs, Albert Camus, and more, because like your most annoying Facebook friends, he thinks that knowing the names of smart people makes him smart by proxy.
This garbage has been declared to have "almost immeasurable charm" seemingly solely because it calls Donald Trump fat. The very fact that it was published at all is the ultimate example of grading on a curve. Sean Penn is a celebrity, so of course we have to put out his inanity. Penn took the bold political stance that ha ha, Trump has a small penis, so of course it's provocative. Even some of the many people who slammed it still called it things like "brave" or a misfired statement. It's not, and it isn't. That Penn sees this book as some kind of bold statement against branding is the height of hypocrisy and arrogance. This book is on shelves only because Sean Penn is a "brand."
I realize the irony here, that I'm contributing to the attention that Penn is getting. But this isn't just a critique; it's a warning. Don't buy this book because Sarah Silverman called it a "masterpiece." Don't buy this book out of morbid curiosity. Taunting notes sent by serial killers have contributed more to American culture than this book ever will, and the only productive thing we can do is ignore it like it's an attention-seeking child. If I still haven't convinced you, here's what Sean Penn has to say after a scene in which a helicopter crushes a woman:
"As for Helen Mayo, they did Sikh and find remains. Get it? Sikh! Get it???"
I know you'll do the right thing.
Mark is on Twitter, and has a book with a better rating than Penn's.
Guess we'd be remiss not to link you to where you could purchase the book, so here it is if you really want it.
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For more bizarre celebrity literature, check out I Read Steven Seagal's Insane Novel So You Don't Have To and 6 Ugly Things You Learn About Donald Trump Reading His Books.
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