Award-winning author, narrator, and screenwriter Neil Gaiman personally selected this book, and, using the tools of the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX), cast the narrator and produced this work for his audiobook label, Neil Gaiman Presents.
A few words from Neil on The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break: "When Steve and I talked about the ideal voice for M, he suggested Holter Graham….because 'Holter’s handling of the Minotaur’s grunt was PERFECT. Exactly what I heard in my head.'"
Five thousand years out of the Labyrinth, the Minotaur finds himself in the American South, living in a trailer park and working as a line cook at a steakhouse. No longer a devourer of human flesh, the Minotaur is a socially inept, lonely creature with very human needs. But over a two-week period, as his life dissolves into chaos, this broken and alienated immortal awakens to the possibility for happiness and to the capacity for love. "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." (Publishers Weekly) Steven Sherrill created the artwork used for the audiobook edition of The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break.
To hear more from Neil Gaiman on The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, click here, or listen to the introduction at the beginning of the book itself.
©2000 Steven Sherrill (P)2011 John F. Blair Publisher
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
The one and only Minotaur is in North Carolina working as a cook in a popular restaurant called Grub's Rib. He cannot deny the "cannibalistic nature of his job," roasting and carving beef ribs: from the shoulders up he is a bull, complete with tough black skin, huge nose, giant tongue, full lips, and sharp horns. In his thousands of years of life--he is tepidly immortal--the Minotaur has been almost everywhere and seen almost everything, and his power, spirit, wildness, and, yes, malevolence, have been eroded by time and experience ("high, the costs of living"). Today his only ambition is to order his life around errands and work, keep a low profile, and belong, however tenuously, to the "team" of workers at Grub's Rib and to the community of tenants at Lucky U Mobile Estates, where he lives rent-free in return for fixing the used cars the owner sells there. No charismatic, bestial force of evil, the Minotaur is slow to anger and prone to worry, and is at core a voyeur who witnesses rather than influences events. He is not wholly useful in an emergency.
Steven Sherrill's The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break (2000), then, is a slice of life from the Minotaur's millennia. He has a crush on an epileptic waitress; he must tolerate a pair of obnoxious young waiters; he is assigned a more public role at Grub's Rib; and although he deftly handles knives, tools, and the like and is a proficient and experienced cook, when distracted he is prone to accidents involving sharp instruments, hot oil, and unwieldy horns. The Minotaur senses a change coming, the kind that has in the past forced him to leave familiar places and roles to live and wander nomadically until he could find new ones.
The Minotaur is a compelling character. As the quintessential outsider, he is able to view humanity objectively and freshly without ever quite being able to fit in. His otherness is increased by his inarticulateness: words fall "mutilated" from his mouth, and he communicates mostly via grunts ("Unnnnnh"), letting the context convey his meaning. His status as Other means that people use him as a sounding board or a confessional with which to express their plans, problems, and experiences, led to believe by the Minotaur's grunts that he's listening carefully and agreeing or disagreeing according to their needs. There are times when his linguistic limitations are unfortunate. There are times when his lack of common sense is boggling.
One of the interesting features of Sherrill's novel is the way in which, after initial shock, disgust, or fear, people generally suffer the Minotaur as if he is "cloaked in a tenuous veil of complicated anonymity." Luckily, the important people in his life, like his boss, his landlord, and his fellow cooks are kind-hearted. Luckily, unlike what happens in The Man Who Fell to Earth, here no scientists try to imprison and study the Minotaur, who is, after all, indigenous to earth. Indeed, the Minotaur was created by the human psyche, he is at least half human, much of what he thinks or does or experiences "would be true even if he didn't have horns," and his blood "carries with it through his monster's veins the weighty, necessary, terrible stuff of human existence: fear, wonder, hope, wickedness, love." Sherrill, then, uses the Minotaur to imaginatively explore what it might feel like to be an immortal monster living a mundane life among mortal humans, thereby expressing what it might feel like to be any unusual human longing to fit in ("Even the monstrous among us need love").
Sherill's style is rich, literate, and varied. He writes occasional poetic chapters to depict the Minotaur's memories and dreams:
"For the meadow near Cnossus, where the hyacinth petals
turn and turn out like so many palms refusing applause.
Think of me, Pasiphae, in your moment of cramped ecstasy."
He writes the vivid minutiae of life, as, for instance when he depicts some wasps in the glove compartment of an old car in a junkyard: "Whether the dozen or so wasps clinging to the nest, wings tucked like hard coats over their pinstriped articulated bodies, somber as pall bearers, but for the nervous antennae, whether they protect this treasure or are oblivious of it, is hard to tell."
He writes pitch-perfect dialogue: "You ever stick anybody with one of them horns?"
He writes lots of humor, dry ("It was an unsettling show, but he had seen worse"), bawdy (putt-putt golf accompanied by the sound from the speakers of an adult drive-in theater), cultural ("The GI Joe doll, singed and shell shocked"), or philosophical ("The crow's shadow mimics its master"). He is especially good with boys, so creative, destructive, sweet, malicious, stupid, and entertaining.
The reader Holter Graham is perfect. His Minotaur grunt is great ("Unnnnh") and his white, black, and Hispanic male and female North Carolinian kids, teens, and adults all sound convincing and human. Graham makes nary a misstep--even when voicing porn actors in action.
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is a quirky book. I'm not sure what it resembles. It is surely no heroic fantasy adventure or horror story! Neither does it feel like an urban fantasy of the Charles de Lint variety, because Sherrill uses the fantastic to show how human nature, relationships, and life are wonderful, terrible, bleak, and hopeful rather than to show how magic is just around the corner. Perhaps it most resembles Edward Scissorshands. If you don't expect a page-turning story featuring a quick-thinking, take-charge, "normal" hero, Sherrill's novel might make you chuckle, cringe, and sigh.
Expected more from this story. I enjoy Neil Gaiman's books and was expecting a little more of the quirky humor and imagination related to the minatours existence. Basicall he's a shy line cook with a speech impedimant and the story goes through 2 weeks of his life and him dealing with being awkward in relationships.
Sadness, lonliness, isolation
No I have not
This was a very good book, although the thing that really stays with you after both during and after finishing the book is the unrelenting sense of loneliness and sadness that the author imbues in the Minotaur. At times I found the book difficult to listen to because of this. The author did an amazing job of making the Minotaur feel like a real character that exists in the real world. He does such a good job at this that you sometimes forget that he is a mythical creature. This in and of itself can actually feel like a detriment, as the book loses some of the 'magic' that comes from writing about mythical creates.
Ultimately, I think that this is definitely worth listening to, but just remember that it is not about mythology, it is about the lonliness, sadness and isolation that comes from being different from everyone around you.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I decided to listen to this but ultimately I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. The story is "simple" yet so complex, the Minotaur is quite a character (in all senses of the word). Many books create situations (crisis) and the reader can typically figure out what will happen next, this is not one of those books. This isn't to say the results are outlandish or so far fetched one would never have imagined the outcome, it is a testament to the creativity of the author. I will definitely be be reading other books from the "Neil Gaiman Presents" series and if they are are as intriguing as this one it will be a wonderful journey. If your contemplating picking this up, do yourself a favor and go for it.
People who have nothing to do and don't really need a plot might like this story. The title of the book sounded like it should be funny, but it fell well short of that also.
what genre? tasteless, mindless novels, yes, it has turned me way off of them.
Holter Graham did do a good performance with the material he had to work with.
The fleeting discussion on the previous life
I do not think you can categorize this book
as any specific genre - would i hesitate from this author? yes
perfect orgasmic real
yes only because neil recommended it
neil owes me one
This fourteen-year-old book was "discovered" by Neil Gaiman, and thanks to his project of putting underread books on Audible, it has become available to a wider audience, which is how I came across it.
A minotaur - not just a minotaur, but The Minotaur - is now working as a line cook at a steakhouse in the South? What is this nonsense? Is it some deeply metaphorical new take on the Theseus myth - Ovid by way of Faulkner? Is it Southern magical realism? Is it literary bizarro fiction?
Maybe it's a little of all those things, but mostly it's a story about the human heart (even if that heart is half bull's) and loneliness. The yearning for human contact. The way small moments can register large for the poor and working class who have little in the way of luxury, recreational time, wide circles of associates, and opportunities to go on fun-filled vacations. They live in trailer parks, they work paycheck to paycheck, they make bad choices in life and love, often because their menu of choices is pretty damn limited, and so a little thing like a hand placed over yours can take on Homeric significance, and an investment in a corn dog trailer can represent the sailing of the Argo.
Okay, I am probably stretching my metaphors a little too far there.
The Minotaur (he has no other name, though his friends and coworkers call him "M") has wandered the Earth for five thousand years. This isn't your typical fantasy story about an immortal, mythological being, though - he's simply existed, in all that time, and acquired no great wealth or power or mad skills. If he's met any famous people since Theseus, it's not mentioned. And the "magical realism" is in the way his existence is simply accepted. People react to his bull-headed appearance, but only the way they might react to any unusual, freakish person - no one ever says "Dude, that guy has a bull's head!" or "Oh my God, minotaurs are real!" They just tell him to watch the horns (after five thousand years he still seems to have trouble maneuvering around spaces built for human heads) or, if they are of a mean and taunting disposition, moo at him while he's on a miniature golf date.
So, this story is about a minotaur (The Minotaur) who's settled, for the moment, in the South, living in a trailer park and working at a steakhouse. He is handy with engines and knives. And he's lonely. He's had lovers before, and he remembers, very dimly, the days when he dined once every seven years on virgin youths. But that ancient, immortal capacity for rage and evil is like an old Greek ruin, still visible, maybe possible to excavate if an archeologist were so inclined, but to all appearances it is a dead and ancient thing seen now only in outline.
"The architecture of the Minotaur’s heart is ancient. Rough hewn and many chambered, his heart is a plodding laborious thing, built for churning through the millennia. But the blood it pumps – the blood it has pumped for five thousand years, the blood it will pump for the rest of his life – is nearly human blood. It carries with it, through his monster’s veins, the weighty, necessary, terrible stuff of human existence: fear, wonder, hope, wickedness, love. But in the Minotaur’s world it is far easier to kill and devour seven virgins year after year, their rattling bones rising at his feet like a sea of cracked ice, than to accept tenderness and return it.”
The Minotaur has a bit of a crush on a waitress named Kelly. He wants a relationship, obviously, but does not know how to initiate one. (After five thousand years, this bull still has got no Game.) But things do indeed proceed towards the inevitable, well, you know you were wondering this, right? Is minotaur sex bestiality? It's actually, while certainly not the tenderest part of the book (in fact, things don't really go well), neither gratuitous nor lurid.
It remains hard to describe this book, because it really is just a bit of close-up human drama, with a main character you will find it easy to root for, so earnest and ancient and sad is he. Who'd have thought someone could write a Southern literary novel about a minotaur who just needs a hug? So read this for the excellent writing and the characterization (and I should note that part of the characterization is of the food the minotaur prepares and serves — seriously, you will be able to smell the onions and have a hankering for a nice juicy steak, which is kind of ironic considering who/what the protagonist is...). But be aware there isn't a big plot here — it's a slow story about a guy with horns. Don't expect Heracles to show up for a climactic mythological wrestling match. You might spot a few other myths here and there (blink and you'll miss them), but this is not an adult Percy Jackson novel.
I also have to say that having listened to this as an audiobook, I never thought you could put so much expressiveness into a grunt — grunts making up about 90% of the Minotaur's dialog. 4 stars for the story, but 5 stars for the narration — I suspect you might actually be missing out if you read it in print.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
The Minotaur in Steven Sherrill's novel is a being I can relate to. He has a hulking frame that tends to bump into things, is quiet and introspective, feels like a bit of an outsider in the ordinary human world, and doesn't always know the best way to verbalize his thoughts, so he often just says "mmmmm".
Unlike me, though, he's the very same creature from ancient myth. He's lived so long, his monstrous past has mostly worn away, leaving only a few dim memories. The same is true of his ability to provoke a reaction from the humans around him. To the denizens of the North Carolina trailer park where he now lives, or the greasy spoon restaurant where he works as a short order cook at, he's a slight oddity, but, really, no more so than the girl who suffers from epilepsy or the gay waiter who's also a Civil War reenactor. The Minotaur leads a fairly unremarkable life. He worries about losing his job, feels uncomfortable around dogs and electronics, likes to repair cars, and has trouble making long-term plans.
There's not much that "happens" in this novel, which has the feel of one those subdued indie films in which the characters carry out their normal lives in a way meant to show the profundity of everyday existence. Conventional urban fantasy, this is not. The writing is quite good at capturing the feel and character of the South, though, and I enjoyed the character study of the Minotaur, called "M" by others, who yearns for connection, or at least a place in the world, but doesn't know how to fit in. He becomes, variously, an observer of human nature, a sounding board for other people's feelings and worries, an object of antagonism, and a lover.
Of course, the story isn't really "about" the Minotaur, but about the way the primal permeates life, sometimes getting lost underneath it, sometimes boiling to the surface at odd moments. Add someone a little more primal than everyone else to small, backwater town, and the dynamic shifts subtly. I enjoyed the nuance with which Sherrill weaves in myth, religion, humor, absurdity, sexuality, the innocent directness of children, and human pathos (e.g. the death and subsequent "unburial" of Sweeney's dog).
Admittedly, this is a slow, languid cloudy day book (though everything comes together in a tense conclusion) and not everyone will enjoy it. I actually quit at several points to listen to other books, but found myself drawn back again. Some credit surely goes to audiobook narrator Holter Graham's excellent reading. He grasps the text well, gives different inflections to different characters, and injects the right notes into the Minotaur's many "hmmms" and "mmmms". He even does rather well with the "dialogue" from an overheard porn movie.
Another win from the Neil Gaiman Presents project, though this one more for tone and writing than storytelling.
Less graphic descriptions of sex and/or porn.
The quality of the writing wasn't bad, nor was the narration, the plot was even gripping at points but the details descriptions of some of the events weren't to my liking.
I'm sure that The Minotaur Take a Cigarette Break is a fantastic novel for some, just not for me. The journey in this case wasn't better than the destination, and a destination was never actually reached.
I fell like this is the tale of a big oaf that has difficulty with his speech and if distracted can become very clumsy and break things due to his size. He desires to find companionship and the struggles involved with not being able to communicate well or fit in and we see the world as if locked in his head. By the way, did I mention the big oaf is the Minotaur.
Having said that, It's a very interesting concept and well written. For no real reasons this book reminded me of the movie Fall Down, probably because that movie is a character piece as well. Character pieces are not something that interest me, I'm happy I gave it a try but it turns out that this book just wasn't for me.
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