OPINION 

Sean Penn is now a "novelist" and "poet"

Photo: Getty Images 

It's as bad as it sounds

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By Hannah Banks-Walker on

We're having a long weekend off, which suggests you might be in the market for some reading material. May I suggest absolutely anything other than Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff, the debut novel from actor-turned-novelist Sean Penn? Seriously, anything else.

News broke earlier this month about the existence of this, ahem, literary work, which Penn at first attributed to mystery writer Pappy Pariah. Now, he’s on the press circuit to promote his book, revealing that Pappy Pariah is in fact a character in the book. I know what you’re thinking: is this going to be a bit like the time Shia LaBeouf became a performance artist and wore a bag on his head? Well, yes, a bit.

The book has been making headlines largely due to the “poem” in the epilogue, in which Penn appears to address the #MeToo movement. I say appears to, because, well, see for yourself:

Though warrior women / Bravely walk the walk, / Derivatives of disproportion / Draw heinous hypocrites / To their flock. [....] 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 infantilizing 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? / But, fuck it, what me worry? / I’m a hero,  / To Time Magazine!

I’ll give you a minute.

What… Louis CK? Toddler’s crusade? Did he really just rhyme walk with flock?

Penn has described his novel as “dystopian”, clearly hoping that his cleverly disguised references to the current political climate (the book calls for the assassination of the “fictional” president, for example) will ensure he’s recognised as the brilliant satirist he knows himself to be. Salman Rushdie has written the blurb for the book! It must be good. I fear, however, that it may be, as Claire Fallon says, a book “written by a craggy white man with an unearned sense of intellectual superiority and a well-thumbed thesaurus.”

I know what you’re thinking: is this going to be a bit like the time Shia LaBeouf became a performance artist and wore a bag on his head? Well, yes, a bit

Even more entertaining than the poem was Penn’s appearance on Stephen Colbert earlier this week. While chain smoking, Penn explained that he was keen to leave acting as he didn’t enjoy the collaborative process any more. “I was never disappointed with me,” Penn said, inadvertently coining the slogan for so many white men everywhere. He described the book as “a kind of venting”, describing his anger at the state of the world and citing the Parkland shooting as one reason his book is so “dystopian”. But, as Fallon explains, “Scattered throughout [the book] is the sort of gleeful racism and misogyny that qualifies Penn’s work as ‘darkly comic’. At various points, the novel espouses progressive viewpoints – that women speaking up about rape is brave, that extrajudicial killings of black men are wrong, that people should have voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump. But Penn has long struggled to translate his professed liberal views, and his virtuous causes, into a respectful attitude toward women and people of color [sic] generally.”

As I haven’t read the book, I have no idea whether Fallon is entirely correct or if, as Sarah Silverman has said, “it’s a goddammed novel for the ages… a straight up masterwork”. Judging by the poem, I’m going to go ahead and assume that I might not be Sean Penn The Writer’s biggest fan. But hey, it’s all subjective, right? One man’s hero is another woman’s obnoxious “poet”. But, fuck it, what me worry? Hashtag irony.

@hlbw 

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Photo: Getty Images 
Tagged in:
Hannah Banks-Walker
Opinion
sean-penn
Poetry
Books

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