Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “But if I were cured I would not love you any longer, would not long for your voice and your touch. And that is a loss I can bear much less than the loss of my freedom.”
William Lyon has spent his entire life bending to the demands of others. When he can no longer keep up the facade, he finds himself divorce and in the small town of Jelley Valley, acting as a caretaker at an abandoned mental hospital while finishing his dissertation.
Colby Anderson lives in the small town of Jelley Valley, running the local grocery store and acting as the assistant postmaster. Colby is everything William is not. Outgoing, flamboyant, and secure in his lifestyle. As William and Colby begin to form a friendship. William opens up and allows Colby to help guide him out of the closet.
When William finds an old tin box filled with letters, his attitudes towards himself and others takes a powerful turn. The letters, written by a former patient committed there, tell a story of everlasting love and heartbreaking sorrow. William begins to see certain parallels between his life and the letter’s author, soon finds himself heavily invested in the former inmates story. As William begins to dig deeper, trying to find information on the former patient, he hopes, with Colby’s help, that he too will have the courage to fight for his dreams.
I’ll be honest, this book took me on a very emotional journey. It made me angry towards those who can’t accept their children for who they are and love them regardless. It made me sad for those who have had to endure this so called “ex gay therapy.” It made me frustrated with the stigma still placed on the mentally ill and the lack of compassion some show those who are lost.
The Tin Box tells of terrible time in our history about the treatment of those considered mentally ill. They weren’t viewed as people. They weren’t afforded the dignity that they deserved. They are treated as nothings and nobodies; experimented on with impunity. We are gifted this knowledge through a series of letters by a former patient.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Tin Box. It’s an emotional coming of age love story that brings the past and present together for a man caught between what he wants in life and what he’s been taught is permissible. Told in the first person through the eyes of William Lyon, his matter of fact way cleverly gives way to the underlying emotions that simmer directly under the surface. Steady pacing, engaging dialogue, and a well plotted storyline keeps you firmly entrenched until the very end. A wonderful thread of humor allows for joy and happiness to permeate the seriousness of the subject matter.
William comes off in the beginning as an uptight uneasy man. He is standoffish upon meeting Colby, giving off a homophobic vibe. Once you get to know him, you realize this is more a product of conditioning then a true indicator of his personality. The book follows William as he slowly goes through a change. His metamorphosis is heart wrenching as we learn of his parent’s cruelty and how it shaped his life. He begins to shed the hard rigid shell he adopted to protect himself and conform to his parents standards. Underneath we find a compassionate man filled with passion and an abundance of love and patience. It takes great courage and strength to let go of your past and embrace your future and William has all that in spades.
Colby is a delight to meet and a joy to get to know. Vivacious and giggly, he is the type who never seems to meet a stranger. Growing up in a small town, Colby knows everyone and has never seen anything but acceptance from his family and friends for his sexual preferences. He latches on to William and soon integrates himself into his life. He is gay and proud, broadcasting with bright tight clothing, eye liner, and a flair for the dramatic.
The romance is slow going as William has years of conditioning and guilt to work through. But he is helped along by an unexpected source. Bill. Bill is a former patient of the now closed mental hospital where William is caretaking. William finds a tin box, hidden in the wall, filled with letters Bill wrote. The letters, written to his lover Johnny, tell a story that will literally break your heart. You learn why he was committed and the things done to him to cure him of his “deviant.” In Bill’s letters, William finds a story that mirrors his own and the courage to let go of his fears and embrace the life that is before him. It’s bittersweet that in Bill’s imprisonment lies the key that can open William’s prison.
The Tin Box is moving and heartfelt story that addresses a serious injustice of the past and present with a compassionate hand and a generous heart. Everyone should read this story. To celebrate how far we have come and to acknowledge the long road we still have to travel. Fielding shows us in here that even in our darkest hour, there is hope and light to be found.