Picture a glorious phone-free, kale-heavy retreat nestled into the beautiful countryside of New York State. You’re paid handsomely to be here … as long as you carry a healthy baby to term. The baby will be born into the 1% and you may never find anything out about the parents of this child for whom you were a surrogate mother for. This is the case of Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, Reagan, a young woman trying to escape her oppressive family, and many other residents of The Farm.
In many ways, this book reminds me of The Power by Naomi Alderman, which is a dystopian book about female bodies and agency that came out last year. Very strong, very intriguing, with a very ethically challenging concept, but fails to deliver on the story front. When I first picked up The Farm, I was expecting a dystopian novel in the tradition of The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood and Red Clocks by Leni Zumas; however, this book is much more ordinary than all that. It is quite realistic and could feasibly and legally be happening today. The surrogate mothers have all signed contracts, are taken care of physically and mentally (in a Big Brother type of way), and are paid handsomely for their services. There is no government scheme or radioactive fluke that provides women with extra powers, they’re normal immigrant women, usually in tough financial situations, that have signed on to participate in a fringe program.
Morally speaking, this book is riddled with topics to think hard about. Surrogacy can give a couple a chance to have children when they themselves are not able, but the Farm takes it one step further by suggesting busy parents with financial means can do this to avoid slowing down their careers or impacting the look of their bodies. The Farm also employs mostly low-income immigrant women, while also deeming impressively-educated and white women as “Premium” hosts. The security system and the role one of our main characters, Ate, plays in finding women for the Farm dings alarm bells. The list goes on and, for this reason, I think The Farm would make a great book club book.
However, I did find myself a bit disappointed by many of the characters and the actual story here. For the first 70 pages, I really considered giving up on the book because it didn’t draw me in. Had the story leaned more towards the dystopian or had a couple more extremes, I could have been more invested. The complaints about the Farm seemed too small to really warrant the results. The epilogue was utterly strange and far too long. To me, it read as an add-on after the fact to wrap up the story nicely.
The two main surrogate characters, Jane and Reagan, were positioned as moral hinges and as two people for us to grab onto in order to make some of the tough moral calls the book asks us to make. But, neither of them held enough ground for me to actually get behind. On the exact other end of the spectrum, though, Mae and Ate were both very well written. Ramos intentionally makes them complicated and problematic, and in them I was able to see both sides of surrogacy. Both of these women also represented what it means to be selfish in pursuit of a goal, whether that be personal or altruistic, and warned against presuming the moral high-ground before you understand the whole situation. They were far more interesting to me than any of the surrogate characters.
Overall? A strong concept with very interesting moral concerns that make for a great discussion, but the story itself under-delivers.
Thank you to Penguin Random House for sending me a review copy!
PUBLICATION DETAILS: Random House; May 7, 2019; 336 pp.; 978-1984853752; Fiction -> Dystopian