Book Review: The Tin Box by Kim Fielding

Posted: September 23, 2013 by sidlove in 2.5 Star Reviews, Book Reviews, Taylor's Reviews
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Reviewed by Jenn Taylor

The Tin BoxTITLE: 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.


William Lyon is a 32 year old facing a divorce from his wife of six years, and looking forward to moving on, starting over, and finishing his dissertation in peace.  The opportunity arises for him to become a caretaker for the abandoned Jelley’s Valley State Insane Asylum in a very small town in California where everyone seems to be related to each other or at the very least knows everyone’s business.  William takes the chance, and settles into the quiet asylum that holds tales of so many people’s lives over the years.  In town, he meets the vibrant, ever cheerful Colby Anderson, who manages to have William confront things about himself he’s long tried to bury.  During his stay, William also finds a tiny tin box hidden within the asylum since the 1940s that contains numerous love letters and journals from a man scared, determined, wishful, and desperate to be himself and with who he loves.

This book was really frustrating to me, and I realize that much of my problems are my issues, and not necessarily the book.  However, it felt at times like the writing came from two entirely different writers, and the two styles didn’t mesh well for me.  I realize people spoke and wrote differently many decades ago and that there needed to feel a difference between the Bill from 1938 to William in present day, but William’s voice felt very amateurish to me.  He didn’t really feel like a mature adult, his thoughts felt jilted, and I felt like we got almost like a play script with stage left-type sentences.  Page after page the reader got lengthy descriptions of every single item he prepared and ate, every pace he took throughout the asylum, how many hours he worked on his dissertation, and what he was thinking about Colby or anything else.  His parts dragged for me, immensely.  Also, I can’t place exactly what felt off about his coming to terms with his sexuality, family, and religion, but it was lacking depth for me regardless.  I couldn’t feel any sort of sympathy for him, didn’t relate to him, and I felt very distanced from him as a character.

While I liked Colby fine, again, everything about him seemed very surface aspects.  I know he smiles a lot, I know he frowns rarely, I know he dresses in too tight clothing, everyone knows he’s gay, and he’s a bit scared of getting hurt.  But other than that??  Ehhhh…  If you combine what I know about him and the distance I was already feeling towards William, I’m left with a couple I don’t really care about at all.  Also, I’m not a prude, and I’ve been in all kinds of different situations with people and partners, but the porn watching scene that turned naughty in real life felt so clichéd, so awkward, so unsexy that I literally scooted back from my laptop and cringed.

But then there were the great parts in this book.  The letters from Bill in the late 1930’s till the 1940s to his love, Johnny.  Those broke my heart.  Those letters held so much desperate hope, such strong determination weakening little by little (but not without a fight), such sadness that he tried to bring humor to, and so much love.  I wanted the ENTIRE book to be about them.  I wanted a happy ending for them both.  I wanted to read their backstory, and to read what happened in that asylum during that time period.  To read about the soldiers, the others suffering from a form of mental illness, and those perfectly sane, but judged because of who they loved.  All of it.  Every bit of it read beautifully.  Those parts and the character Bill made this likable, but otherwise this was just an OK read for me.

Recommended for the beautiful prose in the letters, the discrimination and pain discussed even just a few short decades ago, how that in many ways hasn’t diminished for some people, how people still struggle with who they are, and for some light-hearted moments.  I wish the rest of the book and characters lived up to those moments.

Taylor rates it – 2_5

BUY LINK: Dreamspinner Press

Jenn Taylor is one of the official reviewers on The Blog of Sid Love.

To read all her reviews, click the link: TAYLOR’S REVIEWS

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