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
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.
I honestly can't remember the last time I was this surprised by such originality in storytelling. Bravo to Steven Sherrill for a tale that's both audaciously fanciful and very human (or half-human, I suppose). Delightful, bittersweet and utterly unexpected. I'm recommending this to my friends.
... Another outstanding performance by Holter Graham, one of the most listenable(?) readers in the world of audiobooks.
... Big thanks to Neil Gaiman for championing a fine work that might not have received the attention it deserves.
... And now I can't help but think about other legendary creatures from ancient literature. What are they up to these days?....
The Cat reviews
Here's the premise: a mythological creature, head of a bull, body of a man, works as a line cook in a steakhouse in rural North Carolina and nobody much notices! A real Minotaur! Horns and everything, okay I'll have the prime rib. Sherril makes us accept that suspension of disbelief, telling a story where impossibility intrudes on reality with hardly a ripple. The Minotaur is always The Minotaur, with the capital letters and rarely a pronoun, and the constant repetition of "The Minotaur" is almost hypnotic. The Minotaur lives in a trailer park, fixes cars and falls in love with the epileptic waitress. We never find out how he got here from Crete, but we don't mind because this is clearly where he belongs, just as every other place he's been is where he belongs. He remembers devouring virgins and youths but hasn't the energy to get into that these days, and he prefers onions anyway. It's a story about the downside of immortality
Holter Graham perfectly captures the speech of The Minotaur, a series of modified bovine grunts. He weaves the rest of the story in almost dreamlike cadences, giving the characters the voices that are different, and not strained.
This book was picked by Neil Gaiman, and it's not hard to see why. Gaiman's entire ouvre is more or less about the collision of myth and reality, and when you've read everything he's written, a good way to get over the annoyance that he hasn't written more is to read things he likes.
After letting it languish in my wish list for months, I heard Alton Brown recommend this book and decided that was all the push I needed to dive in. I'm glad I did.
Listening to the Minotaur, I was reminded of the work of another of my favorite authors, Charles Portis (best known for True Grit, but all five of his novels are winners). Sherrill's meandering narrative, steady rhythm and low-key Southern brand of humor share a lot with Portis.
In some ways, I see the Minotaur as a meditation on masculinity--both its lighter and darker sides. The author certainly doesn't bombard you with sweeping generalizations, but when he does make the occasional broad observation on the male psyche, I found little to argue with.
My criticisms are few, and mostly inconsequential to my enjoyment of the book. More curiosities than complaints. The Minotaur's workplace, Grub's Rib, is initially sketched out as a greasy roadside BBQ joint, but in later chapters seems to feel more like a trendy haute cuisine establishment. The time setting feels a little inconsistent as well--early on, I felt like there were clear indications that the book takes place in the early 90's, but later details seem to contradict this. I suppose, given the Minotaur's foggy recollection of his own five millenia on the Earth, this kind of thing can be forgiven--perhaps is even intentional.
These are minor issues, though--in fact, they're the kinds of things I only notice when a book draws me in. Holter Graham's narration is excellent, accentuating the Minotaur's taciturn grunts, the varied drawls of his co-workers, and the epicurean appeal of the fare they serve up.
If you have suffered through many English literature classes in college, my headline says it all. Because the main character is the Minotaur, I guess this book technically qualifies as fantasy. But the handling of plot, character, action is totally from the literary genre rather than the fantasy or science fiction genre. Ask yourself which you preferred: Moby Dick or The Lord of the Rings? The Great Gatsby or The Wheel of Time? William Faulkner or George R. R. Martin? If you preferred the first in each of these choices, then you may actually like this book. If you are able to enjoy both the literary and the fantasy genre, then this book may be quite your cup of tea. But if you depended on Cliff Notes to get you through Moby Dick and all its literary brothers, then give this book a miss.
The editorial synopsis of this book says that the plot revolves around the Minotaur's love for an epileptic waitress. But the plot is a very thin thread amidst a great sea of vividly described scenes wherein nothing much happens and NOTHING has a conclusive ending.
I finished this book, and I don't usually finish books I don't like, so it had *something*. But I was irritated almost the entire time I was listening to it, and planning my scathing review throughout. Almost everyone in this book was little, mean, or unlikable. A few acts of futile kindness were scattered among a host of petty cruelties. There was instance after instance where some sort of action was called for--call the boss, call the police, call a taxi--where nobody did anything. And there was one truly appalling scene where two children are in considerable danger, their mother is nearby but ignorant of what is going on, and our "hero" goes for a car ride so he won't be there when the @#$% hits the fan.
There are a number of scenes with sexual overtones, and pretty much every one of them is unpleasant, bordering on disgusting, in some way. The main character comes across as being mentally retarded--really. He is good at a few things, so I guess he couldn't be, but if you like your protagonists to be brilliant, witty, brave, or effective, look elsewhere.
The book ends in the same limping, ineffective way of everything that went before it. I THINK the author thinks he wrote a happy ending, but I'm not sure. There was a brief epilogue that was supposed to inform us, I guess. But the images were disjointed and symbolic, and conveyed nothing much to me. I suppose if I'd been reading this story instead of listening to it, I could have gone back over the epilogue 15 or 20 times to figure out what it was meant to convey, but I don't think listening to it again would have helped much, and I don't care enough about this story to (heaven forbid!) spend more money to buy a printed copy. Or even to go to my local library and look for it.
As you may have deduced by now, I won't be recommending this book to all my friends. Nor do I recommend it to you.
I was very excited to see these selections by Neil Gaiman and this did not disappoint. The story was well written, rich with sensation and experiences, not all of them pleasant but the end of the book I felt completely satisfied. Sherill's writing made it easy for me to empathize with the Minotaur, and his character transcends the mythical beast and becomes very human and very familiar. Really glad I bought this book.
Neko chan at heart =^.^=
Nay~ not time well-spent. I have to admit that the only reason I continued listening was because I paid for it and because the narrator was FANTASTIC. I also want to give credit where its due: Sherrill's prose, overall writing style, and wordsmithing are well honed. At times I truly enjoyed his sentence structure and descriptions... BUT~ this story didn't go anywhere. After 4 hours and 49 minutes, I had to stop. It's a dull story overall. I really don't understand where all the praise comes from. This will be the first audiobook I was unable to finish. I even made it through Amanda Ronconi's nasal-y, whiny, exaggerated Alaskan accent in How to flirt with a Naked Werewolf (not my usual book, but it was part of a girl's bookclub).
I cannot speak for the back half of the book, but the front half of it is a sad, and dull story of a minotaur living in an old backwards town, living in a trailer, going to his job (cook in a local restaurant), fixing his car, having the desire to speak but not ever doing it, and overall letting life wash over him as he craves human interaction that he can't quite have. It's depressing at best... At first I thought the book would have many more mythological references with fun modern twists (it didn't), and then I thought: well maybe it's a study on human interaction and what we take for granted in our social rituals (that didn't seem to develop). The I thought... hmm, perhaps the author is using this is a criticism on how poorly we treat outcasts or some such (nay, the reprimand never came). Then finally I decided: the author just wants to tell a sad tale, about a lonely, boring individual, with no real aspirations, phantom hopes, and an unstable life and background that kept him (and will keep him) on the road to more eternal nothingness. That's when I came back to Audible to find my next book. Goodbye
I don't think I will...
This narrator does an excellent job with what could be a very monotonous story. His voices and grunts and tone were the highlight of those 4+ hours.
I was disappointed in this book. I wanted to love it because Neil Gaiman recommended it. I gave it 3 starts overall because the narrator deserves credit (and the author forges a good paragraph even if the story is boring).
Paid reviewers, after two weeks get 4-8 votes and have that power to strike unhelpful against others. Check their history! Your money!
If living 5000 years does this to your personality, then kill me at 80 please. THE Minotaur has lived 5000 years, yet he is inept and insecure in all things, except mechanical. Forget the title, he does not smoke. He does not drink, swim, talk or have fun. He is Anal.
The plot is, he works in a restaurant, lives in a trailer park, helps a guy move and that is it. I worked in a restaurant as a kid, you worked in a restaurant as a kid, 95% of the people who read this have worked in a restaurant. The descriptive, lengthy restaurant tripe might be interesting to rich academia types, but not the average reader. Even Koontz did not go to this length with his fry cook, Odd.
Through out the book he is consistently referred to as THE Minotaur. THE writer probably had some deep reason for not giving THE Minotaur a name. THE result for THE reader is that it is hard to empathize with THE Minotaur, since he as no name and in the English language we put THE in front of inanimate objects. His co-workers do call him M, he has no friends. Take THE Minotaur out of the book and you cut it in half. I wanted to give up on this book several times, but kept with it. Despite the lack of story, I did start to feel some empathy for the THE Minotaur toward the last part of the book. If my constant use of THE is irritating you then you do not want to listen to this book.
There are characters here from "My Name is Earl", but not well developed. The Minotaur is so un-minotaur like it is unbelievable. His hips and legs are as skinny as a girl. Even obese people have large legs and hips, from carry the load of there upper body. He has no balls. A bull with no balls. He is one sad bull and you will be sad if you expect too much from this.
I gave it three stars as the writer does show promise in his prose. He has an imagination, he just needs to think things through or maybe not think so much.
Maybe to a few friends. The reader Holter Graham is excellent, but the story just never seems to go anywhere. I kept listening hoping for some twist or turn to take things in a new or surprising direction but it never happens.
The Minotaur character doesn't really change, there was a real opportunity to take him in an unexpected direction or to have him grow.
He really brings the characters to life and gives them depth.
Overall this book was a let down, there was an opportunity to do something different. Because of this it ultimately disappoints the listener. As a warning to potential listeners there is some strong language, strong sexual language, sex situations so this isn't for young listeners or those easily offended.
This story had a great premise and the cast of characters was interesting. Still it lacked something. Just an okay read.
"Taking the bull by the horns"
An utterly compelling narrative about the everyday life of a 5000 year old mythological creature who lives in a trailer park in the deep south of America, works in a restaurant and fixes cars.
It's a novel in which not much actually happens but it is the attention to detail, the minutia of the minotaur's life that holds our attention and makes us care. Care so much that, as things grew to a crescendo and the minotaur's world fractures and threatens to split apart, I was almost afraid to continue lest it was indeed rent asunder.
Read with conviction and panache by Holter Graham, this audiobook is an absolute gem.
"Strange but sad"
This is a strange wee tale. The minotaur is still around, he has been for what seems like forever. People take advantage of him and are nasty in the way people are to those who are different. He just wants to carry on with his catering job, and perhaps get to know the waitress a bit better, but could she like someone like him?
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