Joanne Ramos’ (debut novel) The Farm is set in Golden Oaks, a commercial surrogacy centre located in the Hudson Valley, built for women to host foetuses for the supremely wealthy. Presented as a ‘retreat’, Golden Oaks offers organic meals, fitness trainers and daily massages in a bid for successful births, with salaries and a tempting bonus for those who deliver healthy babies.
The apparent luxury comes with a price. We meet Jane, a Filipino surrogate who learns that mothers are effectively imprisoned at Golden Oaks, confined to the grounds with their movements monitored by ‘co-ordinators’ who listen to every conversation and read every email.
who currently lives in Wisconsin but who too was born in the Philippines, began
writing after reading an article on an Indian facility that homes surrogates
within a fifty-mile radius of Ahmedabad. Ramos’ personal experience of
migration is at the heart of the story, with Jane tempted into Golden Oaks as
she struggles to make ends meet in America.
Written in the third person, each chapter is dedicated to pivotal characters. Jane is joined by Mae, Reagan and Ate, whom she pays to nurse and care for her daughter, Amalia. Jane links all four, acting as a surrogate for a client and investor. Initially thrilled to filter through the highly competitive Host selection process at the centre, Jane is concerned only with meritocratic opportunity and comfortable upbringing for Amalia.
The communication collapses between Jane and cousin Ate, stemming from a significant revelation, and distresses Jane. This acts as a catalyst for change.
A contemporary novel, investigating surrogate mothering, and Ramos’ own ethnicity within the Western world, The Farm addresses colonialization. Reminiscent of Meera Syal’s The House of Hidden Mothers, The Farm, however, considers mothering within the brutal capitalist American dream. Ramos’ clearly holds indictment for the 1% and their exploitation of the poor, but also addresses the White Collar class and the socially conscious affluent in the novel, adding subtext and a more complex structure, representative of the class layers in American society.
Sarah Knott, author and Professor of History in Indiana, refers to mothering as, “a defence of caring under late capitalism,” in her most recent work, Mother. Ramos reinforces Knott’s statement in a chapter that centres around Mae, Director of Operations of Golden Oaks,
“it’s no longer just three-thousand-dollar strollers and designer baby diapers. The luxury market is moving down the age scale to the newborn and gestational phases, and we’ve got first mover advantage.”
The prose within this provocative page-turner flows by narrative, not devoid of imagery and metaphor. Hinting at what will follow, with some degree of pardon for Mae, the novel fails to confront the utter lack of agency, a theme that compels us to read on. Ramos’ neglects to give life to Jane, who as readers we should feel distraught for. Nonetheless, The Farm raises pertinent questions about surrogacy and immigration in a colonised setting in commercial mainstream fiction.