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Best-selling author and Katonah resident Ann Leary is getting rave reviews for her powerful new book, The Foundling.
Ann Leary is quickly becoming a major force in contemporary American literature. Fresh off her three previous novels, The Children, The Good House, and Outtakes From a Marriage, the New York Times best-selling author’s essay, Rallying to Keep the Game Alive, was adapted for the Amazon Prime show Modern Love, while The Good House became a feature film starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. In June, Leary released her latest novel, The Foundling, a tale of two women reconnecting in very different circumstances than when they met, for which The New York Times dubbed her a “virtuoso.” We caught up with the Katonah-based author to discuss the background of her acclaimed book and what lies ahead for her.
What inspired The Foundling?
It was based on a real discovery I made about my family. I was finishing my last novel, The Children, and I joined Ancestry.com. I knew my maternal grandmother was an orphan, and I knew she spent part of her childhood in a Catholic orphanage in Scranton, PA, but I didn’t know why she was orphaned, and I wanted to know what happened to her parents. Records show that at age 17 she was working in central Pennsylvania at a very large institution called the Laurelton State Village for Feeble Minded Women of a Childbearing Age, which I found was part of a eugenics crusade at the time. I became fascinated and was going to write a nonfiction, journey-of-discovery kind of book, but I decided to write a novel because there were so many other asylums I found that were similar. I decided to combine everything I had learned and make all of them into one fictitious asylum that very much resembled the place where my grandmother worked. The characters leapt out at me from true characters in history that I found out about during my research.
Please tell me a little about the novel itself.
The Foundling is the story of two women who grew up together in the same orphanage and meet again, years later, in a very famous women’s institution, but they are no longer roommates. Mary is the secretary to the very charismatic and brilliant female doctor who runs the place, and Lillian is an inmate against her will. Lillian has been labeled feeble-minded because she fell in love with a Black man and had his child. That was against the law in some states, but you didn’t have to break a law to be committed to one of these asylums. You could just step outside of what was considered morally sound or morally correct at that time.
What lies ahead for you?
My other novels have been contemporary fiction, but I really loved writing this novel, set in the past. There’s another mystery in my family, which involves my great-grandmother. I believe I’ve found what looks like evidence that my great-grandmother’s husband killed her. And then, this past summer, I believe I found a smoking gun in the form of some land records in Upstate New York. I need to work with a forensic genealogist, and I still don’t know if it’s going to be a long-form essay or maybe a book, novel, or more likely a nonfiction piece, but I think I could prove that my great-grandfather murdered my great-grandmother. I’m under contract for an essay collection, as well, and I have half of it written. A lot of it will be about this area, because it involves getting to a certain age and us moving to this house.