"The Farm" by Joanne Ramos
People often pose the question, “What would you do for money?”
Discussed, usually informally, often while lubricated by libations, it commonly leads to serious debates.
When I left high school and matriculated, I went into education — so I obviously wasn’t too focused on the Benjamins.
But even I, with money a peripheral focus at best, remember frequently discussing the topic in passing with friends.
Walking out to the marching band practice field, we would see a mouth guard, abandoned by a football player, laying in the mud.
“Would you put that in your mouth for $100? $50? $20?” We would ask each other.
Debating the merits.
Arguing about the rules.
“Well, would there be water I could wash my mouth out with immediately after?”
“How long would I actually have to hold it in my mouth?”
People debate things like this — and will continue debating them — because of what money represents. Because of what having it — or not having it — means, particularly when you’re an adult with adult responsibilities.
The desire for money — and willingness to do pretty much anything to get it — is a central idea explored in this Joanna Ramos debut. Told in alternating points of view, the book isn’t focused on one person, but instead, one place.
But the product of Golden Oaks, the eponymous setting of this novel, isn’t eggs or corn or beef but instead, crassly enough, people.
This novel is set in the very near future in a time when surrogacy is used less out of necessity and more out of vanity. The farm is the place that women carrying the babies of the rich and famous go while pregnant to ensure that they don’t inadvertently do anything that might make the fetus they are hosting less than perfect.
You know… like have sex or fail to exercise or eat an apple that isn’t certified organic.
The story predominantly focuses on two carriers — or, hosts as they are called in the novel — Jane and Reagan.
Jane comes to the farm out of necessity. A single mother without a high school education, her opportunities for gainful employment are limited. So, when she learns of the farm from her cousin, Ate Evelyn, she begrudgingly agrees that she has to take the opportunity before her — even if it means leaving her daughter, who is an infant, for 9 months.
Reagan couldn’t be more different from Jane. A college educated woman with a passion for art, she is a premium host. Because she’s got so much more to recommend her than some of the other potential hosts, the farm can charge significantly more for the rental of her uterus — and, as a result, they are more willing to allow her some of the little luxuries denied the other hosts.
Though both Jane and Reagan find the stringent regulations at the farm a bit… difficult… they are both willing to follow them — Jane, for the promise of a life-changingly-large paycheck and Reagan because she wants to do something that actually makes a difference in the world.
But as they both settle in, they begin to see that things might not be… above board. It starts to seem to them that the people running the farm aren’t being entirely honest. And as this reality dawns on them it begs a terrifying question: just how much aren’t we being told.
When this book first blipped it’s way onto my radar it moved immediately on to my must-read list.
Not only did the premise sound intriguing, but also it was being compared to the Handmaid’s Tale, a story that anyone with a library card — or, more recently, a Hulu log-in — likely knows well.
So, when I snagged an advanced copy, I was pretty fucking excited.
I pushed some other reads down my to-be-read list and dove in.
I was sure I was going to just absolutely love it.
But,sadly, I was wrong.
Though I certainly didn’t hate it, as I finished the novel and thought back upon it I simply couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for it.
It was, for lack of a better word… Meh.
Pinpointing the reason I didn’t love it — or really even enjoy it, to be honest — is difficult.
I suspect, however, that the degree of my disenchantment for this book was, ironically, increased by the same thing that attracted it to me in the first place: The likening of it to Atwood’s classic.
From the moment I read the promo material I thought, “Oh, a Handmaid’s-Tale-ian read from a fresh, modern voice. I’mma love this one.”
But then, I didn't.
Because it didn't... sparkle.
It didn't... shine.
It didn't... change the way I thought about the world.
It lacked the grit and rawness and intensity and significance of the classic novel to which it had been compared.
Whether it was that the author did not effectively induce me to care enough about these characters or that the stakes just weren't high enough, I really couldn’t say. But I just didn't feel the same urge to finish this. The same desire to apply the lessons it taught to my real life. The same urgency to change my way of thinking.
And, honestly, the fact that I didn’t love this book really sucks.
It was, admittedly, objectively well-written.
The author wrote fluidly and tackled difficult topics unflinchingly.
This gives me hope for the author’s future efforts.
Because this book didn’t miss the mark by a mile.
It was certainly better than that decades-ago-abandoned mouthguard, slathered in the salivations of athleticism, that disgusted my friends and I years ago.
It just wasn’t… awesome.
And I am super disappointed about that.
It earns 3 out of 5 cocktails from me.
Unfortunately, it failed to realize its potential and will, ultimately, be much more forgettable than the utterly breathtaking classic to which it is being compared.
I am really interested in hearing what others think of this one. If you’ve read it, did it miss the mark for you, too… Or am I just crazy? Tell me your opinions in the comments, below.
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