The Tin Box
Title : The Tin Box
Author : Kim Fielding
Publisher : Dreamspinner Press (BUY HERE)
Genre : M/M, Contemporary
Length : 210 pages (e-book)
Published : September 20, 2013
Rating : ★★★★1/2
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.
This is the beautifully written, heart wrenching story of William, who has filed for divorce from his wife rather than maintaining the emotionally exhausting ruse of being heterosexual. I was highly moved with the concept utilized by the author in William’s journey to self- acceptance and happiness. The story is told in William’s POV.
With his divorce pending, William lands what he considers a perfect job, a perfect situation. He becomes caretaker at a vacant asylum near the remote town of Jelley’s Valley, California. William is writing his dissertation and welcomes the quiet of the location in which to work. I felt sad for William and a bit frustrated too. He was able to realize he needed to be honest with his wife, yet he was not able to be completely honest with himself. I saw his ready acceptance of residing alone at the asylum to be a form of self-isolation. Right down to the padlocked entrance gate. He wasn’t openly living life as a gay man, and the caretaker situation would allow him to conveniently continue to sweep his sexuality under the rug. Little did William know, he had placed himself in the direct line of fire of something, in the form of someone, he had spent his life trying to avoid.
That someone is Colby. Born and bred in Jelley’s Valley, Colby is pretty much the polar opposite of William. He is out and proud, glitter and gusto all the way. Colby had spent time living and partying in San Francisco, yet had returned to his home town to help run the family store. Of course William had to go into town for supplies, which gave Colby the opportunity to overwhelm him with his outgoing (and out!) personality, charm, and direct, no apologies demeanor.
William was a bit of an enigma the first part of the story. At times his behavior did not go along with what I learned about him. Interestingly, He would probably say the same about how well he knew himself. As William explores the ghostly, disturbingly empty halls and rooms of the asylum, he realizes how dreary and hopeless it must have been for the people being treated there. He discovers a tin lunchbox containing letters written in the 1930s by Bill, who was institutionalized and subjected to “conversion therapy” for being homosexual. The letters were from Bill to his lover, who obviously never received the letters. William and I were deeply impacted by the contents of Bill’s letters, as well as the defiant tone of them. Bill knew who he was and was proud of it, even in the time period in which he lived. William and I were also horrified by the simple fact that it was the norm for homosexuals to be placed in the asylum where barbaric techniques were carried out on them in the hopes of a “cure”. It turns out that William could also relate to such techniques, as he had been subjected to very similar ones as a teen by his parents and their church. These reveals of William’s past had me viewing him and his actions in an entirely new light.
Colby chipped away at William’s brittle and closed personality, eventually establishing an awkward friendship with him. William finds himself responding physically to Colby’s presence, and Colby was more than willing to help educate William in gay sex, while keeping an emotional distance. Colby believed William needed time to explore the prospects of being an out gay man. As the story progresses, William shares Bill’s letters with Colby and he undertakes a quest to ascertain the identity and fate of Bill. This is juxtaposed with William also coming to terms with his own identity and his relationship with Colby. Colby was so strong, yet so vulnerable. I just loved him.
Even though William was emotionally scarred and deep in the closet in the early parts of the story, I did have a little difficulty believing he was as clueless about Colby’s feelings as he was for a time. At the same time, I found it refreshing that William did not go on the great gay club crusade. He found he could have hooked up easily on the bar scene, but such behavior didn’t feel genuine to him so he didn’t. There are people in this world who simply are not into casual sexual encounters, and it was refreshing to read about one. I won’t go into more detail about what William discovers, as it’s a journey the reader should take along with him. J
Obviously many details of this story were very difficult and heart breaking to read. Realizing how common place such abhorrent practices were in decades past amongst seemingly well- meaning doctors was deeply disturbing. I applaud the author for bringing this dark element of history to the forefront. I wish all such practices were found only in the past.
Kim Fielding is a favorite author of mine. Once again, she delivered big time. William’s journey of discovery takes him to heights and impacts people he never dreamed of – this reader included. ♥
Rated 4.5 stars by Dianne