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The Farm

Review

The Farm

In a heartbreaking scene near the conclusion of Joanne Ramos’ THE FARM, protagonist Jane is being berated for violating the terms of her contract as a surrogate mother, or “Host,” for a mysterious client. Mae Yu, her employer, tells her, “Imagine…having no inkling whether your child is injured or sick or in the gravest of danger. Do you have any idea how painful that is to the mother who trusted you? How painful it is not knowing?” Jane calmly turns to Mae and says, “Of course I know.” After all, it’s concern over her own toddler daughter that has led Jane to such desperate lengths in the first place.

Jane is one of many young women --- most of them black or brown --- who have come to Golden Oaks as Hosts, carrying the fetuses of rich clients who are too old (or busy, or vain) to carry a child to term themselves. Golden Oaks is the logical next step for a chain of clubs catering to the ultra-rich, and Mae Yu aspires to scaling up even more, with a West Coast offshoot and even more concierge services, so that the fabulously wealthy can outsource virtually every aspect of pregnancy and parenting.

"THE FARM would be a great companion to novels such as THE HANDMAID’S TALE, VOX, WOMEN TALKING and THE POWER. Chillingly, though, its premise is entirely plausible in today’s world..."

At Golden Oaks, the young women, many of whom have been scouted and recruited by older relatives or trusted friends, have every aspect of their lives carefully monitored and controlled, lest they purposefully or accidentally cause harm to the valuable cargo they carry. A fall, a tick bite, a missed exercise session or a careless candy binge --- any of these could be grounds for annulment of the Client’s contract and a loss of a big fat bonus check.

It's the promise of that generous bonus that motivates Jane. A Filipina who has been let go (in spectacularly dramatic fashion) from her most recent baby nursing job, she is eager to find work that will allow her to provide her daughter, Amalia, with financial security and a better life. But ironically, Jane must surrender Amalia to the care of a relative while Jane is gestating at Golden Oaks --- and soon the updates on Amalia’s well-being become increasingly sporadic and less specific.

At the center of THE FARM --- which alternates among the perspectives of several characters but always returns to Jane --- are issues of race, class and privilege. Why are some women asked and expected to serve as compliant, controlled and virtually invisible servants for others? What kind of society have we built when this type of labor is considered the best possible outcome for young women from disadvantaged or immigrant backgrounds? And how can we shake our society loose from its tendency to commodify everything --- even seemingly exempt phenomena like pregnancy and childbirth? The plurality of voices that populate Ramos’ novel will give book clubs much to consider and discuss.

THE FARM would be a great companion to novels such as THE HANDMAID’S TALE, VOX, WOMEN TALKING and THE POWER. Chillingly, though, its premise is entirely plausible in today’s world rather than part of some abstract near-future.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 10, 2019

The Farm
by Joanne Ramos

  • Publication Date: May 7, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Random House
  • ISBN-10: 1984853759
  • ISBN-13: 9781984853752