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Literature / The Farm

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A 2019 novel by Filipino-American author Joanne Ramos.

Jane Reyes is a struggling Filipina nurse-cum-caregiver recently arrived in the States. It's hard enough that the jobs she's had so far are lowish in pay, but she's also saddled with an almost-newborn daughter, Amalia, a product of wedlock with a cavalier man who left them soon afterward. Moving to New York to find better opportunities, she rooms with her older cousin Evelyn Arroyo, often just referred to as "Ate" (Tagalog for "big sister"), who helps to care for Amalia and to find Jane a job. Eventually one very promising yet intriguing offer surfaces: how would she like to get pregnant with the babies of paying clients? No—not like that—but rather, she'll be implanted with the fertilised eggs of rich clients who can't themselves risk birthing them (for age, medical conditions, lack of time or other reasons), and she'll be hired to bring those people's fetuses to term, for a tidy salary and the promise of a huge bonus upon safe delivery. The employer, Golden Oaks Farm, is a surrogate-pregnancy farm in upstate New York. It seems too good to be true—is it?

It's in essence a small-scale, very near-future Dystopia, described in some circles as the millennial answer to The Handmaid's Tale.

"The Farm" includes the following tropes:

  • Affably Evil: How the constantly-smiling Mae comes across to the Hosts sometimes, in particular to Reagan and Jane.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Jane was worrying all this time that Amalia was terribly sick. When she breaks out of the Farm, she locates the hospital where Amalia supposedly is, and finds that it was Ate who was hospitalised all this time. (Amalia herself is fine.)
  • Berserk Button: The whole time spent apart from her baby daughter Amalia has functioned as this for Jane.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The Farm is crawling with CCTV cameras, and the Genre Savvy Lisa often makes beelines for camera blind spots. The Farm's Coordinators can also track the movements of their Hosts via their WellBands, fitness monitors the Hosts are required to wear at all times (but are at least physically removable).
  • Bleak Abyss Retirement Home: The home-for-the-aged that Jane initially works in upon her arrival in California isn't a hellscape, but it is "meh" at best, for both residents and staff.
  • Christianity is Catholic: For the Filipina characters, practically a given, though it's not brought up much outside a few relevant traditions. Jane and the other Filipina Hosts on the Farm (as well as other non-Filipina Catholic hosts) hear Sunday mass at an in-house chapel. The officiating chaplain is also implied to be Filipino or possibly generic Latino; Carmen, one of the other Filipina Hosts, serves as organist.
    • Catholicism does become a minor issue when one Polish Catholic Host is forced to abort—because her baby has the genes for a likely acute form of Down syndrome, which wouldn't reflect well on the pregnancy program in general. In discussions with Coordinators and other Farm staff and stakeholders, Mae observes that the spectre of an abortion could unsettle any Host with a reasonably strong Catholic conviction, or at least upbringing.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Mae Yu from the perspective of the Hosts—but Jane even suspects Ate (her elder cousin) of being a minor version of this, thinking that Ate only cares about making money from whatever hustle she can find, Jane's daughter Amalia be damned.
  • Crapsaccharine World: The Farm gives the Hosts the best amenities, but that image slowly unravels.
  • Disappeared Dad: Jane's American serviceman father left her mother not long after she was born. Billy, Jane's own husband at one point, similarly left her after Amalia was born.
  • Fiction 500: The Farm's Clients, including—possibly at the very top—a shadowy Chinese billionaire who would not at all be out of place in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy.
    • Mae herself essentially counts, being the head of Golden Oaks Farm.
    • On a lesser scale even most of Jane's, Ate's, and their family and friends' employers are often these too: very comfortably wealthy families (dare we say "Crazy Rich Whites"?) from the Upper East or Upper West Side, or on Long Island, who go vacationing in traditional rich white-people getaways like the Hamptons.
  • Foreshadowing: Soon after Jane's arrival in New York, Ate collapses due to a heart attack while tending to the Carters' baby as their baby nurse, and this is what prompts her to leave them for a while and offer Jane to take over in her absence. She gets hospitalised by a more serious heart attack toward the end of the novel—which Jane realises too late is the reason Ate hasn't been returning any of Jane's calls.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: There's no specific dates to indicate what year this is all happening in, but it's likely almost the present or at most a few years down from 2019, since almost all the featured technology is largely identical with that of The Present Day, as of the date of publication; it is, however, bleeding cutting-edge (as befitting a newly-established, multibillion-dollar business catering to billionaire clients). Even the audio equipment strapped on the Hosts' stomachs and used to deliver music straight to the unborn babies sounds entirely plausible already; it's treated more as specialised quality equipment for a specific industry than a common gadget from the near future per se.
    • Plus there's no indication of any major political or social changes outside the context of the Farm, other than that China is a fast-rising economic power, but that has been true for the last decade and the half at least.
  • The Place: The titular Farm refers to Golden Oaks Farm.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: What Mae ends up being; she might seem "evil" to the Hosts, but she's running a business, and is herself beholden to the Farm's Clients, as well as to her own boss and the board.
  • The Reveal:
    • "Callie", Reagan's alleged Client, is actually a character actress named Tracey Washington, hired by Mae to act as a "stand-in Client" to assuage Reagan's feelings and guilt about the baby she's carrying. It turns out that she (and Jane, and Lisa, and many of the other named Hosts) are all carrying the fetuses or babies of the reclusive Chinese billionaire, Madame Deng.
  • Villains Out Shopping: The novel goes into much detail about Mae's professional and personal life, so even if she's viewed as a villainous overlord and control freak at the Farm, readers also see how she's planning her upcoming wedding (down to dress fittings and flower arrangements), and shows the aftermath of her outrageous bachelorette party, among other things.