The premise of The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is one that promises a hefty dose of ironic fun and crushing alienation. Simon Sherrill’s debut tells the story of M, the Theban Minotaur whom Theseus supposedly slew three thousand years ago. The son of Zeus, M now works in the American Deep South as a line-chef at Grub’s Steak House. Shy and embarrassed at his bull tongue’s failings at language, M has few friends and keeps to himself, fixing cars in his spare time for one of his few friends, Sweeny, the owner of the trailer park the Minotaur lives in.
The surrealist premise is undercut by Sherrill’s dry approach to the narrative. M is a character that one has to believe is real for the book to work and here Sherrill triumphs. He has created such a tragic figure, a fallen demigod desperately trying to hold onto his job in a steak house, a far cry from his previous career in shaking the world. Clumsy and rash, with poor eyesight and a tongue that won’t work, M has retreated further and further from the world, with only his skills in simple mechanics of auto machinery to give him pleasure. He remembers what he used to be, albeit barely. He makes half-hearted attempts to fit in with co-workers, doomed to failure by his own lack of self-confidence. He is not a man with a head of a bull, but a creature half man and half bull, three thousand years from where he once belonged.
The novel is an engaging two weeks in M’s life, helping a work friend move, getting into an accident in the kitchen, developing a crush on a coworker, road tripping with Sweeny and other such minutiae before building to an event that could change everything for the Minotaur.
For thousands of years, he has been buffeted by the fates, traveling and being ground down until the savage beast of Thebes is nothing more than a myth to everyone, including himself. But here, he makes a choice, a decision that no matter how the consequences of it play out, things will not be the same again for the Minotaur.
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is an engrossing, if at times uncomfortable, study of a remarkably human protagonist made all the more extraordinary by his explicit inhumanity.