“The Farm” by Joanne Ramos is a suspenseful novel around surrogates impregnated by embryos belonging to the uber-rich confined to a farm in upstate New York. But the main character feels she’s being deceived by the farm’s staff and comes to the conclusion her presence there may mean something more sinister.
Jane is a young mother who’s living in a dormitory in New York mostly with other Filipina women, including her cousin Ate. They both take care of 6-month-old Amalia to the best of their abilities with their surroundings. But Ate is a well-known baby nurse constantly recommended for her newborn sleeping method. She’s able to connect Jane with a job with a family, but Jane ruins that opportunity with her motherly instincts. So Ate suggests Jane should be a surrogate mother at this resort called Golden Oaks, where she will receive a bonus for delivering a healthy baby for a very rich family. Jane leaves Amalia in Ate’s care as she embarks to the resort for 9 months. At Golden Oaks, ambitious Mae is running the resort as it’s still in its trial run with the investment of an aging Chinese billionaire, so she’s gentle with Jane, which makes Jane question if she’s carrying the billionaire’s baby. But Mae’s forced kindness is part of the system, Jane learns from her newfound friends, Lisa, who’s in her third surrogate pregnancy at Golden Oaks, and Reagan, also a first-timer who comes from money but wants her own independence for her art career. As Jane confides in her new friends, she finds herself getting in trouble and risking her future paycheck. She tries to lay low until she senses something is wrong with Amalia. Then she is desperate to leave the premises and see her daughter.
This novel does an excellent job with mild suspense as in it plays on motherly instincts and how they can be tested and what a mother would do if she gets a read on a situation.
It also shows the plight of many immigrant women who find work in baby nursing, cleaning, and other jobs as servants of rich families. This story focuses on the Filipina community in New York. Jane arrived in the U.S. when she was a teenager only to live with her mother in California who let relationships with men run her life. When Jane later leaves her husband Billy with Amalia in tow, the only person she can rely on is her older cousin, Ate aka Evelyn, who despite experiencing success in the Manhattan baby circuit still lives in a dormitory with other Filipinas struggling to find steady work since she sends her money to her four grown children in the Philippines, including a disabled son.
Class is another issue. While Jane and Ate work for rich families, Reagan comes from a rich family. Yet she doesn’t know what she truly wants with all the opportunities she has received. She seems to be spiteful about her friend, Macy, who’s black and considered at the top of her game in investment banking though she had a rough upbringing. They both went to Duke, but Macy is in another stratosphere compared to Reagan. As Mae runs Golden Oaks, she’s constantly feeling pity for Jane because of her circumstances as a low-income single mother yet knows she has the power to hold things over Jane’s head with the paycheck for the baby.
The book appears long, but the story is engaging with the situations inside the farm and outside the farm along with backstories of the characters, so this piece of literary fiction is well-conceived.