Noted actor and director Penn tries his hand at fiction and pulls it off reasonably well.
There’s not much clef in Penn’s debut roman, although his protagonist, the titular Bob Honey, does log a little time visiting New Orleans after Katrina and fulminating about the sad state of the world. Bob, “God’s squared-away man,” is a pronounced nuisance around his California neighborhood, the kind of fellow whom the neighbors are always ratting out to the constabulary, a report from whom reads, “Neighbors complain of excessive lawn mower noise—0300 hours. When patrol arrived at scene, all was quiet. Scent of fresh cut grass permeating the air.” Divorced, creatively spiteful, Bob pursues the oddest of career trajectories, selling septic tank systems here, working angles there to “explore opportunities in the waste management sector” in Baghdad right after the U.S. invasion. Oh, and to boot, Bob isn’t above scratching out a few bucks by executing oldsters whose only crime is drawing down the social welfare coffers, “a reckoning of their uselessness in a world where branding is being.” Things get more tangled from there. 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; on encountering sentences like “But as the music and its pulse rose, Bob began to follow, finally finding the spastic gesticulations that would purge his pond of pirates,” 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 (“rarified resins liquefied during a life languishing unloved”) as Bob’s life becomes ever more unmoored. Still, it’s good fun, and as a bonus, Donald Trump gets a nice drubbing, too.
A provocative debut. Not entirely successful, but James Franco and B.J. Novak better watch their backs.