Like the author, the narrator of The Halfway House, William Figueras, is a Cuban writer who emigrates to Miami, and meets his expatriated relatives, who are disappointed to learn that the "future winner" they were expecting is, instead, a "crazy, nearly toothless, skinny, frightened guy who had to be admitted to a psychiatric ward that very day because he eyed everyone in the family with suspicion and, instead of hugging and kissing them, insulted them." After he spends six months in and out of psychiatric wards, his aunt drops him off at a halfway house that caters to Latinos, telling him that "nothing more can be done."
William very quickly learns that he has landed in Hell. His housemates are all demented, stuffing toilets with clothes and relieving themselves all over the house. The owner, Mr. Curbelo, steals their Social Security checks, and provides them with less amenities than the worst jail. Order is kept by several "employees", especially Arsenio, who steals from and beats the male residents, and rapes the female ones. Out of anger and frustration, William also begins to physically and sexually abuse his housemates, earning him the respect of Arsenio.
One day a young, innocent and disturbed woman, Frances, becomes a resident. William immediately takes to her, and the two create a plan to escape from the halfway house and build a life together. However, Mr. Curbelo and Arsenio have a plan for them.
This novella, although quite sad, was not morbidly depressing, as it is infused with warmth and humor, and the narrator does not descend into madness or despair despite his obvious pain and anguish.