The most disturbing thing about “The Farm,” by Joanne Ramos, is that its premise seems completely plausible.
Nestled in the Hudson Valley of upstate New York is Golden Oaks, a sumptuous resort boasting posh rooms, organic meals, private trainers, and daily massages – and you get paid a hefty sum to stay there. The only catch: The female residents of this “gestational retreat” are implanted with the embryos of the superrich and spend their pregnancies having every move monitored at “the farm” to ensure babies of maximum potential.
The novel focuses on several key characters: Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines and a struggling single mother, sees an opportunity to make serious money as a Golden Oaks “host,” but she worries about her own young daughter’s well-being. Reagan, “the holy trifecta of Premium Hosts,” is white, pretty and educated. She views surrogacy as an act of benevolence, but also a way to win independence from her domineering father.
Ramos, the author, worked in investment banking before becoming a staff writer for “The Economist,” and her knowledge of that world is evident in this debut novel. Executives at the company behind Golden Oaks talk about surrogacy in capitalist terms, where uberwealthy clients generate the demand, hosts are the supply, and babies are the ultimate commodity.
In a world where many immigrants chase the American dream in service-industry jobs, this Atwood-style dystopia plays like present day. You can just imagine a Golden Oaks operation popping up wherever some women need cash and others want babies without the stretch marks or swollen ankles. That’s pretty much anywhere, and that’s what makes it especially chilling.