At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Minotaur has tried settling down in North Carolina. He's staying in a trailer park trading his expertise as a mechanic for rent, and working as a line chef at a local restaurant, Grub's Rib. It's not a bad existence for an immortal being out of myth, but thousands of years of experience have taught "M" that nothing lasts forever - especially peace and quiet.
Wow, I need to keep up. I haven't even finished the catch-up stuff and now I'm a couple of weeks late on writing up the first Choose Your Book Adventure book. (I'm having second thoughts about the name, and I'm not above changing it. Isn't that the beauty of a blog? That you can change whatever you want?)
Anyway...I finished The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break a couple of weeks ago. When I told Elaine (who suggested it) that I was enjoying it, she reiterated her evangelism, and I've already recommended it to a couple of people. I tried to avoid all mention of what was inside before cracking open the cover, and except for the basic premise - the legendary beast of Greek mythology is now living in modern-day America, working as a cook - I went in not knowing what to expect. What I found was a beautiful, melancholy story about the loneliness of being an outsider.
There's no denying that a sad story appeals to me, but one of the truly beautiful things about Minotaur is that it's not all sad; there's a core of hope in the Minotaur's existence. Though his existence is mundane - he lives alone in a trailer park, filling his days with work and chores to stave off loneliness and boredom (something I can certainly identify with) - he finds solace in it. Even though he knows things must go wrong eventually, and he will be forced to move on - is even surprised when it does not happen as quickly as he expects - he can't help but try to forge relationships, make connections. As is so often the case in these stories, the inhuman character is a conduit for something essentially human. Though he's a monster, the menace and horror once commanded by the Minotaur has been worn away by the millennia separating him from his years devouring virgins and slaying heroes in the labyrinth. He's now a stand-in for anyone who doesn't fit in.
More than that, he also represents those whose inner life does not match their outer existence. "M", as the Minotaur is known, has the same desires and needs as any human, but his peculiar form prevents him from making this known: he finds it hard to talk, his vision is bad, his horns sometimes get in the way. His is also a story of disability: he gets odd looks, children ask impertinent questions, bullies target him and he finds life in a world of "normal" people more difficult than the rest of us. But he does his best, and in his own way, triumphs a little. Most importantly, we're always empathising with him, even when what his actions don't seem quite right from a "normal" point of view.
This is magical realism at its best, I think; Sherrill doesn't try and build a realistic world and context for M. To the modern world, creatures of myth are just another kind of outsider, treated as a minority by a society who has no need for them any more. Stylistically, and I know I've said this about quite a few books reviewed on these pages, but the prose here has a poetic quality. It's not archaic, but it evokes a feeling of immortality, of age, through a rhythm all its own.
In short: I loved it. Maybe you will too.
I'm already a about a quarter of the way through The Big Sleep, which is next by dint of library availability; Coburg are still trying to find a copy of The Ghost Map, but I've managed to get The Big Sleep, At Swim, Two Boys and A Dictionary of the Khazars. My secondary objective for this round is to get every book from a library; so far I haven't had to stray further than the local Moreland Libraries, but I have cards for half a dozen or so Melbourne libraries, so that could end up an adventure in itself!
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill
Library: Moreland (Coburg branch)
The Title: appears in the text on page 198.
Fun Fact: there's a movie in development, listed for release this year. I don't think this will translate well to the screen as is, so I expect it'll be more the concept that's in use.