Imagine going on a long retreat to New York’s picturesque Hudson Valley. You’ll stay in a renovated 19th-century mansion, where you’ll be served gourmet meals, take yoga classes and get daily massages.
Not only is the whole thing free, you’re actually getting paid to be there. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, there’s a catch: You’re there for nine months…to provide the ideal baby to someone else.
Welcome to The Farm, a new novel by Joanne Ramos.
At Golden Oaks, a group of women—many of whom are immigrants—are completely isolated from the world. Their every move is monitored by a staff led by Mae, the facility’s ambitious manager. There we meet Jane, a Filipina single mother of an infant, Amalia. After losing her job as a nanny, Jane has no choice but to take a job as a ‘Host’ (a fancy word for a surrogate) at Golden Oaks.
Hoping she’ll find a home away from home with other Filipinas, she’s surprised when she ends up being largely shut out of their clique. Instead, she’s lonely and worried for her daughter, who is staying with a cousin. That’s when she befriends Reagan, a Duke-educated white woman who decided to go to Golden Oaks to gain financial freedom from her family.
As her worries for Amalia grow, Jane is torn between her obligation to the wealthy family paying her for her womb’s service, and the child she already has—a child who’s the reason for her being a surrogate in the first place. Should she leave to be with her daughter? Is leaving even an option?
Ramos covers a lot of ground, from the delicate yet transactional relationship between a mother and her nanny to the struggles and financial motivations of immigrants and ethnic minorities. The novel also examines the ethics of surrogacy and boldly challenges the idea that America is a meritocracy. The Farm is a timely investigation of how much control we really have over our own situations, especially when it comes to women’s choice. Sure, Jane wasn’t forced to go to Golden Oaks. But as a single mother and immigrant with few other opportunities to provide for her daughter, did she really have an option?
With glimmers of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and the dystopian eeriness of The Handmaid’s Tale, The Farm is equal parts entertaining and creepy. Ramos’s characters (especially Jane and Mae) feel so realistic…but it’s more than a little unsettling imagining a future in which Golden Oaks could really exist.