Actor/director Penn continues his foray into fiction with this shaggy dog yarn of a secret agent–turned–freelance dispenser of justice.
Bob Honey is a man with a plan. When last we saw him, in Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff (2018), the enigmatic killer was being hauled off to the pen; now, having “opted for fugitive flight,” he’s the subject of a manhunt. He goes blackface, a disguise that a grimace-inducing fellow agent in like garb sees right through, first muttering, “When a black man use soap, his skin dry ashen,” then dropping the patois to say, “You just look like a crazy white guy with tar all over his face.“ Honey tries again, this time going in drag on the Acela train to Washington and speaking in falsetto to a senator who once did right by the downtrodden but then became a supporter of the “flim-flamming finger fucker” who won the 2016 election, for which, Bob thinks, he deserves death by mallet, Bob’s favorite instrument. Penn risks crossing over the boundaries of political incorrectness at many points, from those incidents to the very title of the book (which comes from a song of slave resistance that celebrates “cranium cracked and plashed on a pulverizing plantation stone” ). He’ll likely be tarred as an incorrigible member of the Hollywood elite as his tale winds to its close with the explosive destruction of the White House in a scene that might have been an outtake from Fight Club, spectacular but strange, perfectly in keeping with the feel of the rest of the book. It’s all very much of a piece with its predecessor, complete with sometimes-unnecessary footnotes and bursts of alliterative language (“Trees that seem to masturbate an ejaculation of wounds wishing and longing for Lennon’s laments”) that seem to be there for their own sake rather than to move the story along.
It’s clear that Penn is having good fun with this soufflé of a story. As for the reader, maybe not so much.