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The Tin Box by Kim Fielding

January 15, 2014


William Lyon’s past forced him to become someone he isn’t. Conflicted and unable to maintain the charade, he separates from his wife and takes a job as caretaker at a former mental hospital. Jelley’s Valley State Insane Asylum was the largest mental hospital in California for well over a century, but it now stands empty. William thinks the decrepit institution is the perfect place to finish his dissertation and wait for his divorce to become final. In town, William meets Colby Anderson, who minds the local store and post office. Unlike William, Colby is cute, upbeat, and flamboyantly out. Although initially put off by Colby’s mannerisms, William comes to value their new friendship, and even accepts Colby’s offer to ease him into the world of gay sex.

William’s self-image begins to change when he discovers a tin box, hidden in an asylum wall since the 1940s. It contains letters secretly written by Bill, a patient who was sent to the asylum for being homosexual. The letters hit close to home, and William comes to care about Bill and his fate. With Colby’s help, he hopes the words written seventy years ago will give him courage to be his true self.

My Review: 

I know what books like this will do to me. I know it and I still read them. I am going to promise myself though that I will not do extensive Googling about the treatment of homosexuality circa 1930/40 in insane asylums like I did after reading Hidden Away and spending hours learning and crying over the Pink Triangle Men that led to horrible nightmares for weeks. Hi, I am Sara. Did I mention I have OCD? Ugh.

The Tin Box was nothing like I expected it to be and that is one hell of a huge compliment. This story was sad, it was absolutely and utterly heart breaking but in its darkness there was so much light and beauty.

I don’t know how much I can get out in this review I am a still a bit of an emotional mess. What’s new, right?

So the story begins with William Lyon taking a job as a caretaker at the now closed and run down Jelley’s Valley State Insane Asylum. He will be staying there to finish his dissertation. William is a pretty solitary type of guy; on his way to being divorced from a woman as he is now ready to be the best homosexual he can be. Well, that’s a bit Brian Kinney of me to say but it fits. William takes a tour of the grounds, sees things that made him melancholy and me as well.

“What’s that?

“That’s the cemetery.”

“I don’t see any gravestones.”

“There aren’t any.”

 Sigh. That place; I expected to be spooky for some reason, some sort of Sessions 9 deal and although the “hospital” is a place where awful things took place, it’s just very sad. Really, really sad.

When William decides to leave the grounds and head into Jelley Valley or JV to the locals we get to meet the bright and adorably addictive Colby Anderson. I so loved the heck out of  Colby. I knew from the minute William, or as Colby calls him, Will, sees Colby I would love him and my instincts were right. Colby is the perfect opposite for William though what lies at the core of each man is what draws them toward each other.

So, we have William at the hospital nosying around when he finds THE tin box, the box that contains letters of a patient/inmate named Bill…coincidence with the name or fate? I like to believe the latter. The letters Bill writes are simply heart breaking. He has been put there involuntarily by his family to be cured of being gay. Just the though of that, even in 1938 hurts me to read it but the letters are such a deep part of the story. Through Bills letters, William starts to see what he wants and needs in his life. Though the William goes through a tough time on his own, it’s nothing compared to what Bill goes through, what he documents through his letters.

Now the letters and the present day take you back and forth in a way that I liked, a lot. I loved that William would go about his daily life, see Colby at the store, take a few trips with him, have magical tamales and begin to settle in and then he would be drawn to the letters and let them, let Bills words take over. For me, that is what reading does. When I go about my daily life either at work or at home, picking up a book transports me. I can be in renaissance England, on a ranch, solving murders with hot FBI Agents or following Rent Boys activities with their clients. And when I put the book down either to for a break or I have finished, I am back to my reality. For William, those letters did that and he would have to come out of that world, that horror, the isolation and desperation and come back to the now. The letters are still a part of him, they stay with him, they change him and on some level help him make decisions and that is what good reading does, it stays with you and in some way becomes a part of you. You fall in love with the characters in the book through their story. You love them, hate the, laugh and cry with them. I not only fell for the story of William and Colby but I fell for Bill and his Johnny as well.

I loved the writing of Kim Fielding, this being my first book from her. I do not think the story could have been any better. It hurt me, but it made me laugh as well. I swooned, I giggled, I cried and I got really pissed off at times. Not by the actions of the author but at what ridiculous things people do, namely both of the William’s families. I cannot imagine ever treating my sons that way. Ever. Never. It’s just. NO!

I can’t change who I love any more than I can make myself shorter. I can…I can stoop down. I can pretend to be short. But it’s a lie. 

So, yeah, this book? It was amazing. I will say that I loved it even though it was hard to read. The subject was hard to read…because things like that, treatment like that has happened. It makes me sick, it really does. But what I liked most about the story was where, why and how Colby and William find one another. To quote a cheesy and ridiculous pop song that I have only heard a handful of times but the line is fitting, they found love in a hopeless place. What a beautiful revelation, love between two men where ones were brought to be cured of the very same thing. Bravo for that. Well done.

Star RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar RatingStar Rating

Get Your Copy: Amazon | Dreamspinner Press | Barnes & Noble

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