This is the penultimate week of the book club. And next week, I want to share some of the discussion questions you have. So drop them below!
If you haven’t finished the book and you are squeamish about spoilers. Stop reading now.
Okay, now that’s over.
At one point in the book, Jane goes to a play and makes her escape. The play is very clearly My Fair Lady which is based on the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion.
I’m fascinated by this allusion to Pygmalion in a story where men are largely absent but still immensely powerful. But in a way, the book is a story about women, creating the ideal woman, either through outsourcing labor (literally), or creating the perfect incubating host. Pygmalion in Greek mythology was a man who hated real women, so he created a statue of one and fell in love with it.
The book is preoccupied with creating perfect conditions and perfect people and then watching as human nature gets in the way. Jane is in some ways the “perfect” woman (quiet, compliant, hard-working, never complains), who randomly makes these impulsive, emotional choices that almost ruin her life. Mae and her clients are obsessed with creating the perfect children inside the perfect hosts’ bodies.
In some ways, you can argue the experiment of the book is women trying to create the perfect conditions for themselves. Creating themselves into perfect beings. But there are still men in the shadows of this book. Leon lurking, controlling, the man with the money and power. Troy who drives the getaway car and gives Jane the leverage. Mae’s fiancée Ethan seems so non-existent until the end when he suggests maybe she carry their baby herself (which weirdly pissed me off).
Talk to me about Pygmalion and perfection and where are all the men? Also, if you got to the ending, how do you feel about it? And let me know what questions you want me to ask next week as we wrap up the discussion.
Men in the shadows ... they have the power to allow success or to tear everything down. It's not just Leon -- it's also the men who marry women (Ate, Jane) and leave them destitute, forcing them into the situations where they cross ethical lines.
The discussion between Leon and Mae about where to find Hosts -- goes to the point that capitalism needs an underclass; it needs poverty to exist and succeed. A little Flyover Country shoutout:
"But there must exist lower-middle-class white girls -- think wholesome Midwesterners; think state-school grads -- who show well but who have no viable career prospects."
We we learn that Mae worked at the Holloway Club and all the people she hired there, I realized she had a lot in common with Ate, who was the person to go to for help, work, money, a place to stay, etc.
I didn't like that the writer put that flashback of Ate at the end. I get why it's there - to humanize her and show us her motivations - but I feel like she pulled a fast one on the reader by placing that flashback so close to the end of the book. I would have appreciated the insight into her character much earlier on.
I've only read to page 250 as I've tried to take this book in chunks to stay up-to-date each week instead of reading through, though I desperately wanted to. So I choose not to read the spoiler-including blurb here.
But as for the questions I think the most interesting, for me as a man, is the portrayal of men in this book. Though the men do not narrate the story they still craft it.
Jane's Ex, Billy - He seems to not care at all about Jane and Amalia. Cheating on Jane in such an open way that his family knows but they all keep it from Jane. The situation leaves Jane with little choice but to leave; putting her in the desperate situation where she agrees to an opportunity like the Farm in the first place.
The rich couples who hire the nannies often have the men earning the money and the wives wielding the money and associated power to exploit others. (Mrs Richards "documentary", Mrs. Herrera moving the goalposts and not paying Ate more)
Roy, through no fault of his own (IIRC), is the impetus of Ate coming to America and certainly the source behind her drive to make money where she, like the rich folks, exploits others for her gain. I don't see this being the case if Roy were not disabled.
Leon - Coincidence that Mae is the only female lead of a business unit at Holloway and that business unit is for a gestational retreat? Also by funding this endeavor without his involvement and okaying it doesn't exist. He also prevents Mae from getting on the 30-under-30 list that she so desperately wanted.
Regan's father - His pressure on Regan to attain a "prestigious" career instead of encouraging her to explore things on her own led her to join the Farm. Though the motives don't quite line up for me. Was it really be an investment banker or a host on the Farm? Having grown up wealthy it doesn't seem that Regan is willing to be a struggling artist or even take a "normal" job that would support herself and allow her to be in control of her destiny without exploiting her body to the extent she is on the farm.
Julio - By leaking information to the Hosts through Lisa, in exchange for sex, he inadvertently drives a lot of the Host drama that ensues. Overweight man knocking into Mae at the airport - Not a key element of the story but he's one of the only non-named people mentioned in the story who interacts with a named character.
Mae's fiance, Ethan - I admittedly do not recall much about this guy.
I see a lot of people saying the characters seemed happy at the end. I agree, but - for some reason I felt like there was something bubbling under the surface for Jane. I read it to mean that she’d inevitably make another “bad” decision (I say “bad” because I kind of understood some of those massive decisions and can’t say I wouldn’t do the same) that would blow everything up. I also think Mae is working on borrowed time and eventually things will fall apart with Leon/the farm.
Is this a bad reading? I don’t think there was one thing that made me think this, more the culmination of the whole story.
I did not like the ending for Jane. It may have been the best outcome for her in this ficton, but I had wanted better for her and I wanted her out of the surrogate racket. Eh, well, it was written so she seemed content, but working for Mae? Yeesh.
It occurred to me that there is an underlying assumption that pregnancy is just a simple thing. You get pregnant, you grow a baby, you give birth. So, when people say just give the baby up for adoption, they don’t realize that you still have to go through pregnancy and you might have complications. You might die. You might end up with a mental health issue. You might end up with ripped up lady parts. In this book, it’s like they just assume these young healthy women can easily carry a pregnancy, give birth and be on their way. And how lucky they are to be able to make money for something so simple. Golden Oaks focuses on the good parts about a new baby, but doesn’t understand the gravity of all of the issues that come up with having a baby. If you give a baby up for adoption, you cannot guarantee the family that adopts them will be good. It makes me think of anti-abortion activists who say "give the baby up for adoption." What if you lose your job because you are pregnant and you have other children at home and your husband leaves you and you have extreme morning sickness for 9 months and no paid leave to recover? I had relatively easy pregnancies and I enjoyed being pregnant after the first three months of nausea. That said, it wasn't easy to juggle part-time grad school and a full-time job with my first baby and then juggle being a working mom with other children with my second and third babies. I got postpartum depression after my second baby. Thank goodness I didn't have to go back to work until my baby was 4 months old. Thank goodness I had support and resources. It just isn't as simple as this book makes it out to be. Again, I sound critical but I loved the book.
Another thing was the author never addressed the number of embryos that one huge client had implanted. That seemed unethical. Unless I got that wrong. I don't have the book anymore.
I found this book complex and fascinating in its portrayal of women who have so internalized the patriarchy/power/abuse of men that the men no longer need to be immediately present to be oppressive. The work of the male characters (from Leon to Billy to Ethan to Regan's dad to Troy, and even Julio) to keep their centrality and power is largely done by the women themselves, who contort their lives and bodies and behaviors to the expectations of the male gaze. Also, this is not a judgement-I do the same, and try desperately to untangle myself from enforcing patriarchy on my own body and life, but it's hard to survive (especially as a single mom) without doing so.
Mixed feelings about the book as a whole. I liked the idea of exploring the theme of "for women to succeed, they need to outsource motherhood" (first by hiring baby nannies but then by outsourcing even the pregnancy with the use of surrogates), and that becomes rich women 'liberating' themselves at the cost of poorer women. But I'd have liked to have at least one character say or acknowledging that maybe the fathers of these children could also be expected to help with childcare.
I also wasn't a fan of the late redemption of Ate, it felt a bit like a bit too much like forced emotional manipulation.
I thought the end was brutal, true, and perfectly done.
Would it have been possible for the surrogacy center to be more transparent? If so, maybe Jane wouldn't have had to "run away" to check on her child? Shouldn't that have been something the center took care of?
How would I like to see the ending of the book change?
Is this book ripe for a sequel? What about movie or TV script?
How could the surrogacy centers branch out? Harvesting (legally?) organs? What other "parts" might poor folks be able to sell for survival? Is there a way for any of this to be ethical?
Finished the book on Saturday and it's been on my mind a lot. Shades of "Orphan Black", The Handmaid's Tale (book), and The Stepford Wives (book). It seems to me that in all of these stories, men are the strategists and women are the tacticians.
Ramos stuck the landing: Mae gets what she wants, Jane gets a home for her & Amalia. Regan is free of her dad. Ate is free of her burdens. It's a chilling ending in many ways because the reader can assume The Farm will only expand its reach, and yet the ending strikes me as completely logical, too.
Just finished the book and agree with so much that's already been written here. Am still digesting the ending. I must say I'm so relieved that Amalia proved to be strong, independent, healthy in the end. I was worried the book was building toward some tragedy befalling her, which would have just reinforced the trope that terrible things happen to children when their mothers work. (Like in movies when someone dies while the unmarried characters are (gasp!) having sex.) Ramos is clearly smarter than that.
I read this book before but did audiobook this time. It was very good. I can't decide if the "happy" ending is an actual attempt to be like "no but it's fine! It's so fine!" OR if it's an attempt to be extra creepy...the ending trying to be happy makes it seem like everyone is just fine with this whole thing which is the creepiest part of all?
Throughout the book (maybe it was just the title) I kept waiting for something (supernatural? psychologically twisty?) to happen. I think this is maybe because I recently finished Natural Beauty by Ling Ling Huang and kept seeing parallels to The Farm. As much as I did not like the ending, I don't know that there was any other outcome for Jane.
Don’t forget Leon - Mae’s boss. She is always trying to please him. And also manipulate him the way she manipulates the women.
I have finished it. KUDOs to Ramos for writing such a great first time novel! My take-away is going to be about classism and its tie to racism in this country. Ramos has given us a good picture of the extremely wealthy and the very poor; the immigrants who sacrifice time with their own children in order to make a living caring for Americans with great means in order to give their own families a better future. And, I, a middle class person, can read about it all. I have very often thought about the quizzes that Ruby Payne includes in her book A Framework for Understanding Poverty-- could you survive in poverty, could you survive in the middle class, could you survive in wealth. That’s when I realized I am definitely in the middle and don’t understand how either of the other two categories work. Ramos’s book gives us a another look at how those two worlds operate.