The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break
John F. Blair, Publisher
Published in 2000
Published in 2016
6 x 9
Five thousand years out of the Labyrinth that held him captive, and as many years beyond the dubious bargain that set him free, the Minotaur finds himself struggling to negotiate the American South with the body of a man and the head of a bull.
The Minotaur tries to balance the past, the present, and a looming future from behind the cooks' line at Grub's Rib, where his coworkers know both his skill with a chef's knife and the sometimes dangerous nature of his horns. At Lucky-U Mobile Estates, the Minotaur lives in a boat-shaped trailer and shares with his neighbors an appreciation for a quiet lifestyle and a respect for auto repairs.
Over the duration of his life, the Minotaur has roamed the earth and seen much, yet he has reaped little wisdom to help him navigate the complex geography of human relationships. Inarticulate, socially inept, tolerated at best by modern folk, he has been reduced from a monster with an appetite for human flesh to a broken creature with very human needs.
During the two weeks covered by the novel, the delicate balance tips, and the Minotaur finds his life dissolving into chaos while he simultaneously awakens to the possibility of love.
Among the characters peopling the Minotaur's world are Kelly, whose own debilitating flaw allows her affinity for the Minotaur; Sweeny, the rough-hewn but kindly proprietor of the mobile-home park; and Buddy, Sweeny's unforgettable, unlucky, randy bulldog.
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is an effortless blend of the mundane and the mythic, a unique world in which kitchen work becomes high drama and meetings between legendary creatures almost pass notice. But strangest of all in Steven Sherrill's debut novel, everything seems to make perfect sense.
“The Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull supposedly slain by Theseus in the labyrinth, is actually working as a cook at Grub's Rib in a small town in North Carolina. Or so Sherrill conjectures in his clever debut novel, which thrusts the fabulous beast into the kitchen sink realism of 1990s America. In Sherrill's bold imagination, the Minotaur is no longer angry or ferocious, having been worn down by 3,000 years of history. Although people are often startled by his horns, the blue-collar world in which he now exists quickly adjusts to his presence. Sweeny, the owner of the Lucky-U trailer park where the Minotaur lives, employs him part-time to repair cars. The Minotaur spends his free hours watching his neighbors, among whom are an amateur muscle freak, Hank, and his sexy wife, Josie. At the restaurant, the other employees accept the Minotaur as he is, except for Shane and Mike, a duo of obnoxious young waiters who also razz David, the restaurant manager, for being gay. The Minotaur is sometimes hindered physically in the human world; his eyes, for example, are separated so broadly by his snout that he has to cock his head to one side to really look at something. Sherrill also insinuates other mythological beasts--the Hermaphroditus, the Medusa--into the story, suggesting how the Southern landscape is shadowed by these myths. The plot centers around the Minotaur's feelings for Kelly, a waitress who is prone to epileptic fits. Does she reciprocate his affections? As the reader might expect, the course of interspecies love never does run smooth. Sherrill's narrative, with its dreamlike pace, shows myth coexisting with reality as naturally as it does in ancient epic.”
“The Minotaur, having endured 5000 years of immortality, is currently living in a trailer park in the Deep South, working as a line cook in a restaurant. His appearance is more monstrous than his behavior, which is more humane than that of most of his co-workers. Coping within the limitations imposed on his existence--horns that are deadly, inarticulateness, a disproportionate body ill-adapted for clothes--the Minotaur has learned to sew and become an expert auto mechanic and a superb cook. It is dealing with people that poses the greatest difficulties. When love becomes a possibility, he must negotiate a path, threatened by the malevolence of the restaurant waiters and supported by the kindness of his landlord and friends. First novelist Sherrill skillfully creates a world in which the reader is more than willing to suspend disbelief to see the man in the monster and the monstrous in all of us. Recommended for larger public libraries and academic fiction collections.”
“I didn't pick up this book the first time I saw it because I assumed it would have a one-joke plot; my wife read it first and persuaded me to give it a try. It turned out to be one of the finest contemporary novels I've read in years. Sherrill never loses compassion for his protagonist despite his gleeful mastery of the Southern grotesque style--rather like Flannery O'Connor, come to think of it. The minotaur, known simply as "M" to his friends (shades of Kafka?), is more humane than some of the humans, good-natured, fallible, groping toward connection with the strange and numerous race of homo sapiens around him. His efforts, missteps, failures and yearnings echo those of every Outsider in literature and life. Are we not all half-human, half-beast, struggling to make our thick tongues give voice to our deepest beliefs and longings? I laughed, I cried, I passed it on to a friend.”