Many thanks to Elena over at Bloomsbury Publishing for sending an ARC of Joanne Ramos’ debut novel my way!
Jane is a young woman , immigrant, half-Filipina, half-American, and a single mother. She needs money. So when her old cousin Ate tells her about Golden Oaks Farm, she decides to seize the opportunity. At the Farm, women have access to luxury, healthy food, massages and fitness classes, provided that they are the perfect, obedient hosts able to deliver healthy babies for the rich clients. A modern surrogacy factory in short. The money offered is huge, but the job may be harder than it seems.
“She suffers from bad judgement. Out of nowhere– pah! She will make a bad choice.”
I found this book compulsively readable. As it switched between the perspectives of four women at different levels of the power ladder, I felt warmth and empathy towards them, sometimes annoyance too. But I cared. There is Mae, the ambitious business woman who runs the Farm, Ate the driven, hard-working baby nurse, Jane and Reagan, the two surrogate mothers who have nothing in common but this job. There is Lisa as well, who makes a striking impression even if she is not given a voice of her own. They are all dreaming of more, prepared to do anything to make life better for their loved one, or just find solace for themselves. There are unexpected friendships budding along the way, and it was fascinating to observe how complex these women’s motivations are and how conflicting their desires can be.
“Mae’s never understood why people – priviledged people especially, like Reagan and Katie – insist that there is something shameful in desiring money. No immigrant ever apopologized for wanting a nicer life.”
Turns out, being a surrogate mother for super rich clients is sometimes pretty challenging. There are attempts at rebellion that do not end up like expected. And there is also this character, Lisa, who from her position of dependence, her lower possition on the power scale, finds leverage and power. She is a very interesting character, vindicative, mean sometimes, always plotting, cunning and incisive. This said, the Farm itself does not play the potent role I though it would. We get to know the routine of the women living here, and the details of the organisation, but it never becomes the ominous dystopia it could have been. Little by little we uncover the small lies and deceptions that lizard the smooth and glossy surface of the Farm. The women are monitored and controlled, and what they gain in comfort they loose in freedom.
“Did you miss the news that there’s no such thing as sacred anymore? Everything’s for sale. Including everyone in this baby factory.”
But everything remains kind of subdued, and I did not feel that shocked or uneasy. The novels tells something about the power of money (both as something possessed or desired), and the relations between different classes. However, the message is a bit blurry, especially with the somehow saccharine ending. It is more a study of the characters’ motivations, a depiction of the immigrant experience than a politically charged dystopia. It makes for a very nice read and I devoured it in almost one sitting, but I just can’t shake the feeling that it could have been more.
“There are people who move through the world like they own it, and the world seems to bend to their demands.”
Read it if you are looking for women portraits, especially in the context of the immigrant experience confronted with the reality of the American dream. But if you are looking for a Handmaid’s Tale kind of dystopia, this may not be the right book to pick.
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
The Farm, by Joanne Ramos, 336p , out 4 May 2019 from Bloomsbury
Please note that all the quotes featured here are taken from a proof copy of the novel, and may be subject to change in the definitive version.