A Look at Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff by Steve Penn

Sean Penn’s novel Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff is a dystopian satire based on Penn’s left-leaning view of modern day society. It’s a strange read — part poem, part rant, part comedy, part crazy — and deliberately so. As he says in an interview with Trevor Noah, “The way not to join the common madness would be to laugh.” To the observant reader, there are many interesting metaphors and similarities between Penn and Honey, and between Penn’s world and Honey’s world.

The main character is Bob Honey. He is divorced, a septic worker, and a contractual hit-man hired by the government. How does he kill people? By bopping them on the head with a mallet. His targets, chosen by the government, are usually elderly, and are chosen because they are using up too many resources. Within the world of Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, this is seen as a service to the nation, and might be linked to Sean Penn’s views on elderly corporations who use up too many natural resources.

The main theme of Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff revolves around civil service. Penn notes that there is an increasing amount of people who are discontent with the way things are in the world, but who respond only by venting their frustrations over the internet. He believes that if more people were to engage in service, they would carry that responsibility with them and address the problems they see in more constructive ways.

Penn is well known for his humanitarianism, acting as a war correspondent and springing to service in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. As a parallel, Bob Honey surveys the scene after the Iraq war, then rushes back to the United States to help in relief efforts after a hurricane. Both are extremely passionate about the state of the world and helping others, and both become increasingly asocial as the nature of their jobs start to wear on them (Penn states that he was no longer enjoying the social aspects of his job as an actor, and turned to writing his first book as a welcome reprieve).

Bob Honey’s comment about the #MeToo movement has gained some interest — Honey criticizes it for its potential to ruin men’s lives without due process. Penn takes any backlash he receives in stride, though. To him, this is only a novel, and people will interpret it as they will.