★ ★ ★
The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel | January 2013 | Grand Central Publishing | Hardcover $28.00
As America’s Mercury Seven astronauts were launched on death-defying missions, television cameras focused on the brave smiles of their young wives. Overnight, these women were transformed from military spouses into American royalty. They had tea with Jackie Kennedy, appeared on the cover of Life magazine, and quickly grew into fashion icons.
As their celebrity rose-and as divorce and tragedy began to touch their lives-the wives continued to rally together, forming bonds that would withstand the test of time, and they have stayed friends for over half a century. The Astronaut Wives Club tells the story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history.
This book was simultaneously fascinating and depressing. I zoomed through it, but felt a bit frustrated the entire time!
First let’s talk about what I found fascinating. To start with, I knew (and still know) next to nothing about the early days of NASA. The major tragedies and triumphs, sure, but I couldn’t tell you how those astronauts trained, how many missions they each participated in, or how their families were cared for in the meantime.
Of course, this book isn’t about NASA or the astronauts themselves, it’s about their wives. Did you know that the wives of the first few astronauts actually each had a Life magazine reporter following them around, observing and interviewing for hours every day? I can’t imagine the pressure. The upshot is that these “pet” reporters acted as buffers between the ladies and the rest of the press — Annie Glenn’s assigned Life writer even agreed to hide or downplay her speech impairment in order to save her further embarrassment, which I thought was quite sweet.
I also really liked reading about Houston and its surrounding communities during this time period. We are essentially dual citizens of two cities right now, my husband and I, and one of those cities is Houston. So I admit that I might be a little bit biased on this topic!
That said… let’s talk about why this book was a bit depressing. It’s hard to believe that women had to deal with the things these women did event just 40-50 years ago, especially these women, matriarchs of some of the country’s favorite families.
Husband cheating on you? Better just be glad that you’re the one he likes best. Emotional and psychological abuse? Better just smile and pretend to be happy for the sake of your husband’s magnificent career. Depressed or over-stressed? Better just pop these “little helper” pills, because most of the other ladies in your peer group are going to act catty about it. Spouse died in the line of duty? Better get over it pretty quick, you’re not welcome in this neighborhood anymore because no one wants a daily reminder of the tragedy waiting for them around the corner.
You know, I love the aesthetic of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The clothing, the cars, the homes, the media… it’s all quite appealing on the surface. But I can’t imagine the enormous pressure these women were under to model the perfect, plastic All American Family day in and day out.
In the end, I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in mid-20th-century American history, particularly the “Space Race” and associated events.
– – – –
I didn’t realize that ABC was releasing a TV miniseries based on this book! The show is scheduled to run for 10 episodes on Thursdays at 7 pm CST. I’ve only watched the 1st episode so far, but I thought it was OK.
Publication information: Koppel, Lily. The Astronaut Wives Club. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2013. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal use.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.