I began to read The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break prepared to like it a lot. I like books that have a touch (just a touch) of fantasy to them. And there are things to like about this book; it is intelligent and well-written. However, it is also rather slow-moving and a bit dreary and, so, difficult to fully enjoy. For me at least. The Minotaur might take a cigarette break, but I had the feeling he slipped a Valium or two into a cup of coffee before going out for that smoke.
If the main character of this book was not the Minotaur of legend (yes, it is the ACTUAL Minotaur), he would be a character not many would write a book around. The Minotaur, having now lived for thousands of years, finds himself working as a cook in a southern steakhouse owned by a man called Grub. The Minotaur, as described by debut author Steven Sherrill, is barely alive. He is non-emotional, socially inept, speaks primarily with "Unnnn" or "Hmmmm" and, when not working as a cook, lives in a dreary little trailer house that is almost too small for his large and horned head. In the first half of the book, we see a lot of the Minotaur at work:
The Minotaur takes one of the thick onion wedges into his mouth, crushes it between his teeth. He loves the Janus-like
quality of the onion: the cool translucent flesh that belies the burn of its juices. He purses his lips as best he can, as if to kiss
Cecie, and she snaps him with a wet dishtowel. It's early. The wait staff isn't there yet.
The Minotaur is amazingly accepted by those around him. Few treat him any differently then they would treat any
other dimwitted boy or man. Most are very tolerant of him. But, for the first half of the book at least, there are too many scenes with scant drama behind them. The Minotaur goes to work, and then goes home and little else. He has little emotional interaction with others.
Sherrill provides ample (and very good) descriptions of the Minotaur's coworkers and neighbors in the trailer park, but there is little dramatic purpose to keep us fully interested.
The most dramatic occurrence in the first half of the book is the accidental killing of Buddy, the dog that lives at the trailer park.
"How about some slaw, M?" Hernando asks.
But, to the credit of the author, we do remain interested despite the lack of things happening and when, in the back half of the book, dramatic events actually do begin to occur, the book gathers some momentum. The Minotaur is in love, or is at least fond of Kelly, a coworker in the restaurant. Much to his surprise, she finds herself drawn to him as well. Kelly, as pretty as she is, has her own "freakish" problem as well: she is subject to fits and can fall to the ground with teeth chattering at any time. Both she and the Minotaur are, in their
own ways, outsiders, attempting to survive in a society that views them as different and odd. The Minotaur and Kelly can be viewed as a metaphor for all of us. Perhaps many people are part monster but, unlike the Minotaur, are allowed to keep that part of themselves well hidden.
Sherrill is a talented writer. I confess that page-turners are my personal cup of tea, so I have an innate prejudice against books that are not fast-paced. If you are in the mood for an intelligent, well-written, thoughtful, if also leisurely paced novel, one in which the author has a superb eye for detail and creates a
sympathetic but curious main character, then add another star to the above rating.