The Foundling

S. & S. Audio. May 2022. 12:40 hrs. ISBN 9781797141473. $23.99. F
Best-selling novelist Leary (The Children) tackles a lesser-known element of women’s history in this fascinating story. In 1927, 18-year-old Mary Engle becomes a secretary at Nettleton State Village, an asylum for women deemed “morally deficient” for bearing children out of wedlock, having same-sex relationships, or otherwise defying social expectations. Mary admires the institution’s beautiful, cultured, and educated superintendent, Dr. Vogel, and hopes that her job at Nettleton will lead to a college education. When Mary recognizes a childhood friend among the inmates and begins a relationship with Jake Enright, an ambitious young journalist, however, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Laura Benanti gives a fully voiced performance with a range of accents and tones for major and secondary characters. Her expressive delivery highlights the characters’ flaws, including Mary’s naïveté, Dr. Vogel’s manipulativeness, and Jake’s too-easy charm. Benanti ably captures Mary’s growth, from willful innocence to her reluctant acceptance that Dr. Vogel—and Nettleton itself—may not be as benevolent as they first appear.
VERDICT A lively performance of a thought-provoking novel.
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