Title: The Tin Box
Author: Kim FIelding
Narrator: K. C. Kelly
Length: 7 hrs + 26 mins
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release: 10th June 2105
Genre: M/M (contemporary)
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 am bereft! I am emotionally wrung out!
I am beside myself! I am moved beyond words!
I am totally and utterly in love with this book!
I just can’t say enough how this story affected me. A story where the past meets the present but shows us how we have come so far and can celebrate what we have achieved. A story that shows us love will always prevail no matter how hopeless the situation, no one can be robbed of the way they feel about someone. Bearing this in mind this review could be a little longer than usual but please do read on.
William is going through a divorce and has taken up a caretaker's job in a remote, disused asylum for the mentally insane to get away from everything in order to concentrate on his thesis.This man is so repressed it’s pitiful. However, he realises his marriage is a farce and tells his wife that he is gay. As a child his parents sent him on all sorts of aversion therapy, pray the gay away camps, etc. so he has been so much in self-denial he really doesn’t know where he should go from here. In many respects he has totally wasted his early years on trying to be someone he wasn’t and never could be. At least getting divorced and telling the truth is a first step in the right direction. William is also a bit of a geek or nerd in the fact that he tries to rationalise everything that has anything to do with emotions in order to protect himself from opening his feelings up. So now he is here in an abandoned mental asylum that closed some thirty years before, in the middle of nowhere, making sure the place is looked after. Well, the whole prospect of being in such a building all alone with miles of corridors winding off into deserted rooms where patients were once held is spooky enough. Hell, I don’t think I would sleep a wink!
The nearest town or I should say nothing more than a small village is Jelley’s Valley that boasts a post office, small convenience store, gas station and restaurant. That’s it! A village where everyone knows everyone else because they all seem to be related to everyone. To get anything you have to go to the next larger town in Mariposa. When William goes to Jelley’s Valley post office he meets Colby for the first time. OMG!! Did I love Colby from the get go or what? I just fell in love with this character from the first time he appeared right up to his very last sentence in the book. He is the bird of paradise for Jelley’s Valley, if you know Little Britain then yes, Colby is “the only gay in the village!” Probably a little too much for such a village but he is true to himself, makes no apologies for the way he is and is much loved by the town’s residents. OK, he is also related to half of them. The first time these two meet is wonderful and you can see that Colby is exactly what William needs to bring him out of his repressed shell and teaches him to be comfortable in his own skin.
“My parents still don’t know why we split. They think I’m just a failure as a husband - not a failure as a heterosexual.”
Colby grinned. “But this gives you a fabulous opportunity to be a flaming success as a homosexual!”
Yes, I LOVED Colby. Upbeat, always positive, a quip for any situation. I adored him. But we later discover he is by no means shallow. He is a very caring and loving person, he’d been away from Jelley’s Valley to San Francisco, lived the highs and lows such a city has to offer but came back to help his grandpa run the shop and post office. Someone who loves and values his family, someone who dreams and believes in one partner for life and after playing the field guards his heart closely from having it broken. However, he doesn't reckon with William.
So Colby has a project and that is try to crack the hard nut that is William. I just loved the dynamics between these two characters. William always hiding back in his shell when Colby becomes too much. Colby trying to entice him out and show him that he has nothing to be afraid of living life as a gay man. Repressed William meets free as a bird Colby. What great dynamics, loved it.
On one of his walks around the asylum William finds an old tin box hidden in a crevice in a wall. Upon opening the box he finds letters written by a former patient who was incarcerated in this asylum some 80 years ago after his family had turned him in for being a sexual deviant, in other words homosexual. With every letter that William reads my heart was broken time and time again. Each letter begins with Bill, the patient, beginning with Dear Johnny…… OMG!! This poor man, this poor dear man who was so young when he was sent to Jelley’s Valley Asylum writes to his lover who he'll never see again. We learn with each letter the horrors that he suffered all in the name of finding a cure for his homosexuality. At the end of every letter I felt like I had cried a river!! Seriously, I was a sobbing wreck! These letters were so heartfelt, so hopeless and yet so courageous. Showing us that Bill had never given up on not selling out his true self. Never turns his back on the love he has for his Johnny. Knowing himself back then that there was no cure for his so called ailment, despite what medical practices seemed to think at the time, he fought until he couldn’t fight anymore. There are only a certain number of letters as after a while they stop. But believe me with every single letter I cried and cried. We find out later why the letters stopped so abruptly and I cried all over again!
Why were these letters so powerful for me? Well, first of all to think of the suffering that Bill had experienced were horrific. Don’t let anyone say that LGBT people have never really suffered or been persecuted in history. Believe you me they have and in some less peaceable countries in the world still are. But we balance this out with the present day situation and it makes all the problems we face today seem so insignificant in comparison. Knowing that Bill would never have seen the life that Colby and William can lead today. Knowing that Bill would never have his happy ever after but maybe, just maybe, if he can look down on the world today and see how life is with William and Colby it would make him happy. But through Bill’s letters William finds the courage to turn his life around and go after the one person that means the whole world to him and that is Colby. His letters are so tragic but we can also learn and be inspired by them. It’s as though Bill is reaching through time, talking to William, telling him not to waste a minute of his life. Geez, this was just so beautiful.
This was the whole success of this book for me. Yes, Bill’s situation was a complete contrast to William’s and Colby’s, but it didn’t devalue or trivialise Bill’s message and story in anyway. It made it all the more poignant. It was a wonderful balance, one minute you are smiling and laughing at Colby, the next you are sobbing your heart out for Bill. A book that evoked so many emotions in one read I was left dazed and awed at this story.
Now here we have the whole crux of the matter. As good as book maybe the narration is all so important. All I can say here is PERFECT!! Absolutely PERFECT! K. C. got everything absolutely right for me. His voice characterisations were spot on, William sounded all professor like and a little nerdy. But his characterisation of COLBY, oh my goodness! Fabulous, it was slightly camp but definitely not over the top or exaggerated. You could just hear how Colby is a gay man who feels comfortable in his own skin, the total opposite of William. As soon as I heard this character I was in love immediately.
However, we get to the letters from Bill in the tin box. Again and incredibly distinct voice characterisation which had me in tears! As each letter progressed you could hear the transformation between hopeful and fighting to resigned and relinquishing. Oh my, how I shed tears over this.
Everything absolutely PERFECT!
Haven’t read or listened to this book yet? Then don’t delay as you don’t know what you have missed.
Meet Kim Fielding
Kim Fielding is the bestselling author of numerous m/m romance novels, novellas, and short stories. Like Kim herself, her work is eclectic, spanning genres such as contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, and historical. Her stories are set in alternate worlds, in 15th century Bosnia, in modern-day Oregon. Her heroes are hipster architect werewolves, housekeepers, maimed giants, and conflicted graduate students. They’re usually flawed, they often encounter terrible obstacles, but they always find love.
Kim’s novel Brute was the 2013 Rainbow Award Winner for Best Gay Fantasy and tied for fourth place for Best Gay Novel.
After having migrated back and forth across the western two-thirds of the United States, Kim calls the boring part of California home. She lives there with her husband, her two daughters, and her day job as a university professor, but escapes as often as possible via car, train, plane, or boat. This may explain why her characters often seem to be in transit as well. She dreams of traveling and writing full-time.
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