Golden Oaks lets Ms Ramos skewer the pretences of the wealthy and the businesses that cater to them. The author previously worked in finance (and for The Economist), and knows what money can buy. A chapter in which Jane’s older, wiser cousin Ate explains the art of high-end baby-nursing is winningly incisive:” They will tell you to ‘make yourself at home’—but they do not want you to make yourself at home!” Yet the book is too subtle to dwell in satire; instead it becomes a suspenseful page-turner. Jane grows increasingly worried about her daughter’s welfare, just as readers learn of the sinister lengths to which Golden Oaks will go to serve its clients.
Ms Ramos, whose own family emigrated from the Philippines to Wisconsin when she was six, tells her story through four main characters. As well as Jane and Ate (who came to America decades earlier to support her children back in the Philippines), she introduces Reagan, a young, white, soulfully rudderless graduate who becomes Jane’s roommate; and Mae Yu, a 30-something go-getter who runs Golden Oaks while planning her perfect wedding. It would have been easy to reduce these figures to archetypes, but Ms Ramos inhabits each one with affection, sensitivity and a keen ear for voice. Together, these women tell a story of an America in which “you must be strong or young if you are not rich.”