Some books are meant to be burned through quickly, fingers excitedly flipping pages over so that you can devour the next set of words. Others only consume a tiny fraction of your brain, making it both possible and necessary for you to have two or three other novels going at the same time. But then there are the books that are so powerfully unsettling, you have to carefully consider each line, each paragraph, each chapter. This is how I felt while reading ‘The Farm’.
Initially, my reflections on the novel were akin to how I felt about ‘The Handmaiden’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood. A combination of the book’s title and the opening chapters have you wondering what type of catastrophe is going to come sailing in, hurtling the plot into a dystopian future. Fairly quickly, however, you realize that you’re reading a book of an entirely different nature. You are inexplicably drawn to all of the characters, despite the fact that you are only allowed snapshots of their true personalities, and your heart aches for each and every one- even the women in the story who are so clearly setting forth a series of actions for personal gain.
On the surface, this is a book revolving around fertility. Who has the ability to get pregnant verses who doesn’t. Peel back a layer and the reader is presented with a far darker portrayal of fertility being fueled by money and power. Golden Oaks is a facility that specializes in surrogacy, where clients can pay exorbitant prices to have a ‘Host’ carry a baby for them to full term. Suddenly, you are asked to contemplate how much of the surrogacy process has become eerily similar to a factory production line. There’s a group of people designing and controlling the product and then there is the assembly line of people being used to produce that product. If there’s any type of malfunction found within the product itself, it’s destroyed- with or without the consent of the person who is producing it. Babies, in this tale, have become a high end commodity which Golden Oaks prides themselves on being able to deliver.
Just like a factory, the fertility facility exploits immigrants- in this case Fillippinas, Mexicans, Poles. Jane, for example, is a young Fillippina woman who is frustrated by how little income she has accrued working as a nanny and in retirement homes. She sees the lavish facility that is Golden Oaks and the fat paycheck waiting for her upon delivery as a beacon of hope. Jane wants to make a better life for herself in America with her infant daughter but doesn’t have the ways or means to do so. Mae, the seemingly flawless and powerful woman overseeing Golden Oaks, knows exactly which pressure points to hit on Jane and the other hosts to ensure they fall into line. And then there’s the revelation that some of the clients are using Golden Oaks, not because they can’t get pregnant, but because they don’t want to. While they weekend in the Hamptons and dine in the city, these clients can breezily take part in the pregnancy journey via Skype without having to worry about handling the messier aspects.
Race, fertility, class, and gender are all tropes that play a role in this novel that leaves you feeling sucker punched at the close of every chapter. Uncomfortable, unsettling, and yet unbelievably powerful. ‘The Farm’ by Joanne Ramos has you recoiling and then immediately turning back to face both it and the subtly dark plot lurking right beneath the surface of a cheery veneer. It’s a thought provoking game changer that people of all ages, gender, and races should pick up and give a painstaking read in 2019.