Title: The Tin Box
Author: Kim Fielding
Cover Artist: Anne Cain
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publisher Buy Link: The Tin Box
Amazon: Buy Link The Tin Box
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 210 pages
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Andrea
Review Summary: The haunting story of a man from the past opens the heart and mind of a present day man, which allows him to accept himself.
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.
I truly have no idea where to begin when describing what I experienced while reading The Tin Box. It was breathtaking, gripping, haunting, and tender. The gamut of emotions this book brings up in the reader is awe inspiring. The Tin Box easily made my short list of most enjoyable reads all year. Unfortunately, I’m not the most eloquent writer, and I don’t have the ability or talent to fully convey how special this book is. All I can do is write about my experience and hopefully the people reading this will be able to get a sense of what this amazing book is all about.
The book starts with William moving into an abandoned mental hospital. To be perfectly blunt, William initially came off as prudish, boring, and lacking in personality. He has taken on the caretaker position only because he desperately needs a place to live, and its remote location will provide a quiet setting to finish his dissertation. What you learn over the course of the book is that William’s upbringing molded him to fit into the strict expectations of his parents and his childhood pastor. The unexpected benefit of this much solitude is that it forces him to get to know himself.
One of the first people William encounters in his newly adopted small town is Colby. Colby is basically the exact opposite of William. Colby is fun, friendly, happy, and completely at ease with being the town’s only out and proud gay resident. William is extremely uncomfortable interacting with a man like Colby, but Colby doesn’t let William’s standoffish behavior deter him from making a new friend. It takes a while for William to warm up to Colby, but he eventually sees what a precious gift it is to have Colby in his life.
William slowly crawls out of his shell when he is in the presence of Colby. Seeing Colby not only comfortable, but taking pride in being a gay man is a revelation to William. It turns the part of himself, which he has always seen as an unspeakable flaw, and makes it something he wants to own and explore. With Colby leading the way, William finally allows himself to break out of the mold and be himself.
The story of Colby and William alone would have made for a good book, but there is more to it than that. While all of this is going on in the forefront, there is the story developing in the background. In his explorations of the hospital, William found a tin box packed with letters. They’re letters from a patient named Bill to his lover. Bill’s family had him admitted because he was homosexual. Bill’s descriptions of daily life and the “treatment” he receives touches a nerve deep within William.
I’m trying to find a way to summarize what this book meant to me. What’s coming to mind is a scene from Steel Magnolias. Dolly Parton played Truvy Jones and after the funeral she says, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” In this case it would be closer to smiling through tears, but it still works for me. Anyway, that is how I felt about The Tin Box. Bill’s story is haunting and heartbreaking, but Colby and William are fun and heartwarming. The emotional extremes meld together perfectly and work together to raise this touching story to another level. I highly, highly recommend it.