02 May 2012

The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break

Well, I’m finally getting around to a book for Stainless Steel Droppings’ Once Upon a Time IV Challenge!  I actually finished this a few weeks ago but with my computer temporarily dead and no way to make regular posts in absentia compotator, I was a little delayed in finally getting this out.  For those not aware, the rules for the Once Upon a Time IV challenge are as non-existent as the previous Sci Fi Experience.  The difference being that this challenge calls on readers to explore Fantasy, Fairy Tales, Folklore and Mythology.  The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is kind of a weird one so I’m going to assume it counts somewhere between mythology and fantasy.  Double credit? Eh?  Well, maybe not, but let’s get to it.

The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill
Audio book read by Holter Graham
9h 4m
Got it from: ‘Neil Gaiman Presents’ series on Audible

The Minotaur, “M,” lives in a trailer park in the South working at a BBQ shack called Grub’s Rib as a line cook.  Oh?  What’s that?  You thought this would be about the same Minotaur trapped in the labyrinth devouring virgins?  Well it is, but now it’s the 1990’s and he’s moved on.  And he has a crush on one of the waitresses…

I know you probably already want to read it so I won’t give out as many details as I normally do.

Beautiful, quiet desperation
Though my brief description may not seem a likely candidate for beautiful description and prose but I can safely say that TMTCB contains some of the most astoundingly beautiful, poetic narrative I have read for years.  Years.

To be sure, and as you might expect when The Minotaur is involved, some pretty terrible things happen and pretty frequently.  Sherrill’s descriptions of people and places, even the most downtrodden and derelict create such a beautiful melancholy setting that there isn’t a moment that isn’t absolutely riveting.  I know that is a word for boring critics and commercials, but this was honestly one of those books that just totally consumed me, every moment of the day.

The Minotaur's “human” condition
While The Minotaur may have once been a fearsome sight, he is now quite a dejected and solitary figure.  He desperately pines for the most basic of human connections with others but if it isn’t his appearance that scares people away, it is his inability to respond appropriately in social situations that drives a wall between The Minotaur and his co-workers and neighbors.  After years of struggling to feel a part of something, to feel human, The Minotaur is not only nervous to the point of paralysis, but when he does manage to insert himself into a social situation, he is invariably disappointed with his awkwardness.

His detachment is so complete that even the narration refers to him most of the time as “The Minotaur.”  He is removed from society, he is removed from responsibility for his actions, and he shrinks away from human contact though there is nothing else he desires more.  He is simply The Minotaur, more object than actor.  And though he is so far from human, it is precisely that disconnect that makes him so human.  We all know what it’s like to be the outsider and The Minotaur’s incongruous human/bull figure makes him so grotesque it’s somehow impossible not to identify with his pain.

Read it.  You have to.  I can’t think of a book with better more thorough and as I’ve said, beautiful descriptions of some pretty depressing shit.  There is no one you will root for and be disappointed than M.  There is also no one you will identify with more.  Well maybe you were popular and in that case come for the amazing story.  It will not disappoint.  I mean how often do I have nothing to gripe about?  Shouldn’t that be a pretty strong indication?

Also, if you get a chance, check out the audiobook on this one.  Holter Graham is probably an actual minotaur in real life.  How else could he pull this off so well?!


  1. The title alone is enough to persuade me that I should give this a try if I come across it.

    1. I admit, the title was about 99% of my decision to get this one :)

  2. What Fence said. I'd read this just for the title!

  3. I found your site based on this review, and very much appreciate it. When I finished the book, I sort-of dismissed it as not really leading me to a particularly traditional ending point. But this book has lingered in my mind ever since - slyly - and I continue to think about the aspects of human connection portrayed by the book. It makes me both sad and hopeful. Your review really captured the gist of the book and its sneaky beauty. (And yes, the audio book reader was amazing.)

    1. Thanks! Glad you agree - about the book and the reader. This one really got under my skin too. I find myself always wanting to recommend it to people, but hesitating probably for the same reason you dismissed it at first.


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