It was as if a door previously closed to her had been opened — just a crack — and for the first time she could imagine a way inside.

Joanne Ramos, The Farm

Title: The Farm
Author: Joanne Ramos
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Length: 336 p
Publishing Date7 May 2019

Jane is a young mother, new to the United States from the Philippines, struggling to provide for herself and her daughter. Feeling like she’s out of choices, Jane agrees to become a resident of Golden Oaks: a luxury retreat for surrogate mothers. A present-day spin on a Handmaid’s Tale concept, Jane’s world is both familiar and unfamiliar. Promised a second chance, or any chance, at earning easy money, all Jane has to do is agree to give up her body and autonomy for nine months. And the child she grows for anonymous parents.

Through a wide range of perspectives, readers get a glimpse at what can happen should surrogacy join the high-capitalist market place. The control that goes into each surrogates (or, as Golden Oaks calls them, hosts) is glossed over with amenities that would otherwise not be available to the women. Bonuses are promised on the delivery of a healthy baby — incentive to do their job, follow orders, give up all control over their lives. But who wouldn’t want to be pampered for almost a year and be paid to do it? It’s not hard to see why different characters are vulnerable to Golden Oaks’ marketing pitch, surrogates and potential parents alike. They’re planning to make dreams come true, after all.

At the macro level, economics is less science than philosophy. One of its core ideas is that free trade — voluntary trade — is mutually beneficial. The exchange has to be a good deal for both sides, or one party would walk.

Joanne Ramos, The Farm

A deeply layered and emotional debut, Joanne Ramos came out strong with The Farm. Standing out against the domestic thrillers and dystopian novels focused on the cost or price of motherhood, and what women are willing to pay, The Farm builds a picture of what I wouldn’t be surprised was happening today. How easy it is to prey on the vulnerable members of society, to get them to pay (or do anything in order to pay) for the life they want. And what makes The Farm is especially engaging is that Ramos forces the reader to question their own morality, their own beliefs, not just about motherhood, but about what defines a commodity, what defines freedom, and whether or not the American dream is still alive —

Or if it’s just that. Just a dream.

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