There are a number of compelling arguments for surrogacy. Some would-be mothers are unable to conceive. Gay couples may wish to become parents. But, as with any legal arrangement, complications can arise, especially when mercenaries try to exploit people’s emotions for monetary gain.
Joanne Ramos imagines such complications in The Farm, her ambitious dystopian debut. The novel’s effectiveness lies in the power of its premise. Financially straitened women, most of them Filipina immigrants—Ramos, an American, was born in the Philippines and moved to Wisconsin when she was 6—are recruited to carry the babies of an ultra-rich, typically white clientele in exchange for a huge payout.
Among the immigrants is protagonist Jane Reyes, the Filipina mother of a 4-year-old girl who left her husband after she discovered his affair. After Jane loses her nanny job, she takes a tip from her 67-year-old cousin with whom she lives, and applies for a job at Golden Oaks, a fancy resort in New York’s Hudson Valley. At Golden Oaks, surrogate mothers reside in luxury, and this opulence includes organic meals, private fitness trainers, daily massages—all for free. But the pregnant women are constantly monitored, and they are restricted from leaving the grounds or from having any contact with the outside world.
The person running Golden Oaks is Mae Yu, a high-achieving Chinese-American woman who, in a marvelous phrase, has “a lusty Ayn Randian love of New York.” Her job is to recruit Hosts who are willing to carry babies for the company’s wealthy Clients. Not all Hosts, however, are treated the same. A few are Premium Hosts, which means they’re white. They include Jane’s roommate Reagan, who represents the holy trifecta of Premium Hosts because she’s white, pretty and educated. She aspires to a career in photography and wants to break free of her domineering father. Another Premium Host is Lisa, who sees Golden Oaks for what it is and recruits Jane and Reagan in her plans to undermine its authority. And then there’s Jane’s cousin, whose motivations may not be what they seem.
Although The Farm has too many digressions and sometimes makes its points too obviously, Ramos still does an excellent job posing complex questions surrounding surrogacy, immigration, capitalism and more. At one point, Reagan tells Jane, “Everything’s conditional. Everything’s got strings attached.” The Farm shows how intricately laced those strings can be.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Joanne Ramos for The Farm.