Title: The Tin Box
Author: Kim Fielding
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 210 pages
Blurb: 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.
Review: William has started a new phase of his life, he’s divorcing his wife, writing his dissertation, and finally admitting to himself that he is a gay man. While working as a caretaker for a defunct insane asylum he meets a flamboyant local named Colby. Colby is a tight clothes wearing, flamboyant gay man that sees no reason to hide who he is even in a small town. For someone just coming to terms with his sexuality after years of repression Colby is a bit much for William to handle. But Colby isn’t as carefree as he at first seems, he has insecurities and doubts that he hides behind his bubbly facade.
While William and Colby form a friendship which progresses to something more William is exploring the asylum he lives in. During this exploration he finds a box filled with unsent letters from Bill to his lover. Bill was a patient at the institution, sent there by his parents when they learned of his homosexuality. In his letters Bill recounts his treatments, his fears, and his hopes for a future with his love. These letters break your heart in the most agonizing ways.
Slowly reading through Bill’s letters has a profound effect on William and his personal journey. Though at times I did feel like switching from the letters left behind by Bill to the actions of William’s time could be jarring. I’m not sure I was given enough time to let my emotions mature, but without the levity of Colby and William’s interactions, I most likely would have cried through the whole book.
I think this is a book we all need to read. It is a subject that is so difficult to contemplate, the treatment of homosexual men as deviants to be cured through any means necessary. The ‘treatment’ of anyone with a perceived mental illness has historically been filled with horrible indignities and true tortures.
Reviewed by Jules