And so, my dear readers, it has come to this. Our final fanciful foray into the fierce philosophy and arrogant alliteration of prose-pretender Sean Penn. Parts one, two, three and four of our series have raised many questions and even more eyebrows; it has all meandered up to this.
I’m not sure why an interlude is placed here rather than between Parts One and Two of the novel, but perhaps even more questionable is the content itself. We get a transcript of the Woodview County Sheriff’s Blotter, just as with the Prologue. Here, it is Helen Mayo Jr. calling the cops on Bob. We’re told it’s July 17th, 2016 so this is after Mayo Sr. was incinerated. Junior is on a scissor lift so she can spy on Bob, and calls the cops because he’s gardening. “I know he’s a white man but sometimes he just looks very Chinese to me. Those awful eyes of his just swell with bad deeds, and I don’t believe this Chink is just bonsai gardening, if you know what I mean” (114). As the police operator is correcting her (bonsai gardens are Japanese), Helen Mayo Jr. falls out of the scissor lift. “Complainant had fallen and phone went dead. So did she” (114). The interlude concludes with that line. Tough break for the Mayo pater familias I’m sure.
Station Thirteen: Opiates & Incest
Strap yourselves in, dear readers, for plot explosions of all kinds! It comes to Bob’s attention (we are not told how) that Loodstar, head of the Papua Academy for Urban and Guerrilla Warfare, the man from whom Bob once took his contracts, has gone rogue in Miami and is murdering the elderly there on his own terms. A “suspicious uptick in the premature passing of senior snowbirds in Florida had caught the attention of some local law enforcement” (116). Bob fears that Loodstar will be arrested and subsequently give him up. Bob also notes the possible involvement of “the blond buffoon” (117) currently running for President; “the candidate’s own Night of the Long Knives [Penn’s italics] might be on a-putsch, or rather, approach, as he himself famously had residences and golf courses in the greater Miami area. All roads lead to Loodstar” (117). After wiring his own house to explode, Bob sets off on a drive to Miami; planes are too conspicuous.
Stopping at a diner in San Antonio, Bob is met by “Pappy Pariah of Kerstetter, Kentucky” (120). Pappy, by way of introduction, tells Bob “I’m the one tellin’ your story and intend’ta [sic] continue right after ma coffee” (120). Pappy warns Bob “the east can get sticky this time’a year. If I were you I’d head west, back to Scottsdale—if you know what I mean…” (122). Rather than acknowledge this, Bob simply queries “what’s with all the opiates and incest in your area?” (122), which Pappy waves off as “[j]ust folks getting by” (122). After being called by name, Bob is unable to get a straight answer as to how Pappy knows it; the reply is simply “I wrote you” (122). Bob abandons this conversation and returns to the road. This exchange is not relevant to the conclusion of the novel; the only reason I bring it up at all is to discuss Pappy’s true identity: Sean Penn. As mentioned, Pappy twice alludes to writing Bob or his story. Pappy’s opinion of women seems to jive with Penn’s—he refers to the waitress as an “undernourished nymphomaniac” (120). Finally, there is this portion of Penn’s acknowledgements, in which he thanks “my many friends whose diversified array of professional experience and expertise has rubbed off just enough to let Pappy play at profundity with the proverbs of their professions and nobility of their nomenclature” (161). Accepting that Pappy is Sean Penn does not help in explaining why this scene occurs; if anything, it raises further questions. If Sean Penn is Pappy, is he therefore not Bob, as I had assumed up to now? Is it significant that Bob ignores Penn’s warning, and that Penn does not alter what’s to come? Does Penn alter what’s to come? Is there any reasoning behind this at all, beyond an author inserting himself into his work out of sheer pretension? Your guess, dear readers, is as good as mine.
During a stop off in New Orleans, Bob’s drink is spiked with acid by millennials. Appallingly little of this is expanded upon; we get maybe a page describing Bob’s experience (the actual acid spiking is given neither motive nor explanation. We are just told that it happens): “After thirty-five hours dancing between expanding flowers, grab-ass gypsies, bingo parlor bivouacs, and the images of the people purging payloads of an SU-22, Bob wakes from a final lycanthropic slumber to find himself a day and a half behind schedule” (124). Shaking off a one-and-a-half-day bender with ease, Bob arrives in Miami.
Upon arrival, Bob receives a photo message: “It is a photo of a woman’s forearm with a deep horizontal gash, bleeding profusely. […] Bob would know that arm anywhere. It is Anne’s!” (126). Lo ho ho, dear readers, the stakes are raised indeed! Fearing that Loodstar has kidnapped Anne, Bob becomes even more anxious to track down the Guinean cannibal mercenary. As Bob searches the streets, a car bomb explodes near (but not quite next to) him. Bob hobbles into a hotel bar where he meets a mysterious (i.e. unexplained) woman named Anasyrma. She gets right to the point: “You know the Marble Palace Hotel? The one with the terrible gold gilding? Everything you’re looking for is there” (130). She further clarifies that Loodstar “has left the elderly-elimination [sic] business” (130), has “gotten into the sex trade” (131) and “he currently contracts for the man she refers to as ‘you know who'”(130). Bob leaves the bar, where the TV switches “back and forth between the after-blast coverage in front of the hotel and the party in Cleveland [the 2016 Republican National Convention, which has been referenced multiple times this chapter]” (129).
Bob arrives at the Marble Palace Hotel, mallet at the ready. He meets the man at the registration desk, noticing “the bottom of the man’s waistcoat lift, exposing the top band of a grass skirt” (133). Bob swings for the fences, literally, and murders the undercover Guinean, as well as at least a dozen of his cohorts en route to Loodstar’s suite. As Bob bursts into room 331, he is greeted with a “Dat you, my bruva?” (136). It is Loodstar calling from the bathroom; it’s not clear how Bob knew to pick this room. Loodstar takes a break from watching the RNC to answer Bob’s questions about Anne. “Who’s Anne? She Russian? Ain’t seen no Anne on the traffic [per a footnote, this is slang for classified government intelligence streams] […] Let me wipe my butt. We’ll hear out the Duck Dynasty boy, den I’ll get you some girls and drug’es [sic]” (135). Bob opts to attack the seated Loodstar instead. He fends off a poisoned blow dart to the nose (136) and bashes Loodstar to death.
Fleeing Loodstars remaining forces, Bob escapes upward to the hotel’s suites. There, through a skylight, he beholds a terrible sight: “A voyeuristic sideman stands by as if managing the campaign waged by the ghastly freckled back and golden blond hair of a fat man pouncing, puckering and fucking a slender blond woman. It is Anne, [Bob] thinks” (136). Bob leaps into action, crashing through the skylight to rescue his lover from The Donald Himself (who else could the fat blond man be!?). “The pummeling man flounces, exposing a glance of the girl’s face to Bob. Paradigm shift. It isn’t Anne at all” (137). Before Bob can swing his mallet or explain himself, he is shot in the head by the afore-mentioned voyeuristic sideman. “The unscathed blond man and his hooligan are extracted by helicopter” (137) before police arrive. The station closes with some contextual grounding, but nowhere near enough: “In less an oddity of adjudication than a predictability of political obfuscation and skullduggery, Bob was never charged with a crime. His neuro-cranial injury, while relatively superficial, left a mark on his mind. A mark on his mind. They must be blind. They cannot see what Bob Honey sees” (139). It seems Anne was never involved in the first place; the mysterious Anasyrma is never heard from again. It should also be pointed out that the nature of the Scottsdale program now makes less sense than ever. Who was giving Bob his contracts? If Loodstar isn’t in the old-people-killing business anymore, what caused the spike of elderly deaths mentioned at the beginning of the chapter? We’ll never know, but there is quite a bit of solace in knowing Bob Honey came face-to-face with a whore-mongering, cannibal-mercenary-hiring depiction of Donald Trump.
Station Fourteen: Debunking Camus
In this short station, Bob recovers from his “superficial” gunshot to the head, thinking on the nature of truth. “In Bob’s morphine dreams at Jackson Memorial, the desert debunked Camus. So said the French Algerian: Truth, like light, blinds. / Falsehood, on the contrary, / is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object” (142). Bob clarifies “the desert” as his own mind, where the shining light of truth illuminates everything equivalently. “Incandescent is and incandescent does, hence flight light-sight for Bobby-boy was no sight at all” (142). If you’re like me, you’re unclear on how, exactly, this debunks Camus, as “no sight at all” sounds like blindness. Apparently, this is good enough for Penn, who closes the station by labeling his protagonist a true patriot. The station closes when “Bob sits up in bed, and through the window watches Old Glory waving wistfully in electric illumination atop an adjacent building’s spire” (144). This novel has been many things, dear readers, but until now it was never gut-wrenchingly cliché; I’m of two minds about this. While this scene earns its heavy eye-roll, its heavy-handedness is at least consistently Pennian.
Station Fifteen: Just a Little Kiss
We jump forward to August 21, 2017. Bob’s booby traps have destroyed his house, and he is moving into an old folks’ home owned by Donald Trump. Whom does he find at reception? None other than Anne! She guides him to his room and “kisses his teared cheek gently” (147) before returning to her desk. This moment is heavily undercut by the reek of coincidence. Did Bob know that Anne worked here, and if so, why was he so slow to recognize her? One person Bob isn’t slow to recognize is Spurley Cultier, sitting in the parking lot behind the wheel of a Buick Grand National. Turns out, Spurley is a hit man too: “Bob had anticipated him an amateur. An anticipation now matured” (147). Bob writes a letter to his landlord (Trump), which ends as delightfully as could be conceived: “We are not simply a people in need of an intervention, we are a nation in need of an assassin. I am God’s squared-away man. I am Bob Honey. That’s who I am. Sir, I challenge you to a duel. Tweet me, bitch. I dare you” (149). After mailing the letter, Bob sits on his bed, waiting for Spurley (hired by Trump) to make his move.
The epilogue is a long-form poem. The first half is an indictment of the Me Too movement, called a “toddler’s crusade” (157), which apparently draws proper attention away from other, more important issues such as gun control and the plights of Syrian refugees and Puerto Rican citizens. Penn’s point seems to be that while Me-Too is righteous at its core, it’s been corrupted by the specter of media attention and, of course, millennials: “Though warrior women / bravely walk the walk, derivatives of disproportion / draw heinous hypocrites / to their flock” (156). Penn further clarifies: “There are no men nor women / only movements own the day” (157). As we know, movements are a form of branding, a loss of individualism nigh unconscionable to our author.
The poem shifts gears (abruptly) to Spurley making his move against Bob. Late at night, Spurley asks Anne-the-receptionist which room is Bob’s. Bob is one step ahead of his former interviewer, and reveals himself to have disguised himself as the home’s employee while the real Anne hides under the desk. Acting quickly, Bob kills Spurley. The epilogue closes thusly: “Cascades of curdling blood / pour past Anne’s eyes. / Though she now screams in horror, / so finally complicit is she, / Sounds a bit like us, don’t it? / In love and killing… /completely complicit / are we! / And Bob Honey? / A being. / Unbranded, / unbridled, / and free” (160).
Alas, dear readers, our journey is at and end, conclusive or otherwise. What do we make of any of this? It’s clear, based on how the story ends, that Bob-the-murdering-pedophile (remember, Anne may or may not be eighteen) is a positive character. The reasoning behind this comes from Penn’s hatred of “branding”, a term that really needs to be better defined. Is “free” a brand? Can you label something as “un-labelable” and thereby defeat its purpose? And how much weight does being branded actually have, provided you have the “right” brands, i.e. individualist, altruistic, self-actualized? I would be interested to hear Sean Penn’s thoughts on these questions, but I suspect he was too busy thumbing his thesaurus for proper alliteration allocation.
All in all, I’ll leave you with these three important takeaways, dear readers:
- Sean Penn is a terrible author whose outrageousness can’t carry an entire novel.
- Penn is not concerned about political correctness regarding other races, and he seems to have a legitimate problem with women.
- Chapter five of this novel featured a viking funeral pyre for an 11-inch, girthy black dildo.