The Farm, by Joanne Ramos, is even more terrifying than The Handmaid’s Tale because it’s not future fiction. It’s entirely plausible that right now, somewhere in the U.S., there is a secret high-end surrogacy facility for the mega-wealthy operating at the same time you’re reading these words.
Reagan and Jane are roommates at The Golden Oaks. They are both first-time ‘Hosts’ (surrogates) but with entirely different motivations.
Ivy-league graduate, Reagan, wants to do something good for the infertile (and also earn a hefty birthing bonus to buy financial independence from her controlling father).
Filipino housekeeper, Jane, just wants to earn enough to feed herself and her baby daughter.
Class, capitalism and meritocracy
The Farm is as much a discussion about class, capitalism and the myth of meritocracy as it is about reproduction. In fact, discussions of the politics of gender are curiously sparse, though the worlds in which the characters move are predominantly female.
Golden Oaks engages in some fairly elaborate manipulations to help their Hosts feel better about themselves and the choices they’ve made. It raises the question – where’s the line?
Give someone a reward to entice someone to choose something that’s in their best interests anyway? That’s just how most sales offers work, really.
Help someone make a decision that you know is best for them, but also happens to improve your own life? That’s how Tupperware works.
What if, as a society, you deprive a whole class of people of money so they’re forced to go in search of it and do things they otherwise wouldn’t have done? Is that okay?
The motivation is always money. The director of The Golden Oaks, Mae, has the best interests of her clients and her hosts listed on her balance sheet. However, Mae’s calculated assessments which underpin her decision making always have a profit and loss column. She likes to pretend it’s not the most important one but it’s always the one that wins out.
Money and the illusion of freedom
Anyone who ever said that ‘money isn’t everything’ clearly had enough of it to get by. From a wealthy, privileged background, Reagan is drawn to be a host because of the purpose, but also because it will earn her money so she can pursue her own creative interests:
It’s not about the money but the freedom, that’s the thing. The freedom to do something real and worthwhile.
Her words have a hollow ring next to Jane, who needs the money so she can get back to her baby daughter and afford to feed, clothe and house her.
Interestingly, it’s uneducated, poverty-stricken Jane who makes the most sense on a philosophical level:
Jane does not believe people are as free as Reagan thinks they are. Sometimes a person has no choice but hard choices…
This includes the very wealthy, and it’s true to an extent. You’re never really free to do whatever you want. No matter how senior you are, you still have someone to answer to. Even Trump has Congress and the Constitution. Is doing something meaningful fundamentally an illusion? Is it an upper class luxury?
The Farm is a gripping read that will leave you with more questions than it answers.
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Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.