A version of this post originally appeared on January 21, 2023.
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break (2000) features a protagonist who lives in the Piedmont of North Carolina. He works in the kitchen of a restaurant and lives by himself at the Lucky You mobile home court. He is handy with car repair and household fixes. He has the body of a man and the head and torso of a bull.
I can be forgiven for expecting this to be a fantasy novel, based on the first two words of the title ("The Minotaur") but I ought to have known it would be a literary fiction novel, based on the remaining four words ("Takes a Cigarette Break"). I tend to be leery of literary fantasy novels, because they tend to have a light touch with the good genre stuff. But I read till the end, hoping the Minotaur would gore somebody or get trapped in a maze. Alas.
Contemporary literary fiction is usually not my jam, particularly the slice-of-life subgenre that features the minutiae of daily existence, peppered with colorful character portraits. It's not to my tastes, but I can respect that Steven Sherrill did a fine job with it. I have no qualms recommending it, if that's your type of reading pleasure. Except:
The main character is both disabled and disfigured, and there's no real reckoning with that. His primary disability is with speech. His bovine tongue struggles with language, so his verbal communication consists mostly of grunting. His disfigurement is that he's half man, half bull. And most people he encounters just sort of... roll with it? They're pretty chill? I can accept the premise of a monster from legend frying potatoes in a diner outside Lexington, sure, but I cannot accept that human beings are open and accepting of radical physical difference. Like. Has Steven Sherrill ever met any people, at all whatsoever.
(For those of you wondering the inappropriate question, the Minotaur has an unremarkable human phallus. He is not hung like a Holstein.)
Given my inconsistent relationship with literary fantasy, you should take opinions with a grain of salt. Droves of people love this book. (Droves. Ha. Unintentional cow pun.) I encourage you to try the audiobook. Narrator Holter Graham gets the accents right, which is rare in popular media. North Carolina accents are hard. I grew up in North Carolina and can't do a convincing one. And he packs a lot of expression into the Minotaur's limited vocabulary.
When Covid first hit, I started doing book talks on social media as a way to keep in touch with people. I never got out of the habit. I don't discuss books by my clients, and if I don't like a book, I won't discuss it at all. While I will sometimes focus on craft or offer gentle critical perspectives, as a matter of professional courtesy, I don't trash writers. Unless they're dead. Then the gloves come off.