The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily KoppelThe Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel
Published: Grand Central Publishing (2013), Hardcover, 288pg
Source: Library
Genres: Biography, History, Non-Fiction

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.

Annie Glenn, with her picture-perfect marriage, was the envy of the other wives; platinum-blonde Rene Carpenter was proclaimed JFK's favorite; and licensed pilot Trudy Cooper arrived on base with a secret. Together with the other wives they formed the Astronaut Wives Club, meeting regularly to provide support and friendship. Many became next-door neighbors and helped to raise each other's children by day, while going to glam parties at night as the country raced to land a man on the Moon.

As their celebrity rose-and as divorce and tragic death began to touch their lives-they continued to rally together, and the wives have now been friends for more than fifty years. THE ASTRONAUT WIVES CLUB tells the real story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history.

I love space! I love people who study space, people who go out into space, people who send other people out into space to study it, etc. etc. You hand me anything involving space ships, aliens, or intergalactic flight, and I am THERE.1

I’m particularly into the early space stuff, from the 1940-1970s. The Astronaut Wives Club, on the surface, seemed like something I’d be into because it covers that time period AND it’s about an aspect of humanity’s history with space that gets overlooked. It’s about the women married to the dudes who went out into space! Should be awesome, right?

Well…not so much.

The disappointing thing was that we didn’t actually learn a lot about the women outside of their roles as astronauts’ wives. The book focused tightly on their lives surrounding the space missions, which makes sense until you realize that it’s actually TOO focused and thus boring.

It went something like this:
Mrs. A is married to Astronaut B, and he is going on a mission! Mrs. A is worried but she pretends to be happy for the press.2 Astronaut B goes into space or whatever. He lives! (And/or he dies.) Mrs. A is happy! (Or sad, if he dies.) Her kids wander around in the background. 30 years from now, Mrs. A and Astronaut B divorce because he’s a cheating bastard. Mrs. A moves to Florida and becomes a secretary or something.

It just felt very limiting. They weren’t only wives! That isn’t their sole definition, y’know? Even when they were married to astronauts, they did other things besides sitting at home listening to the squawk box. Betty Grissom was an Air Force pilot, for Pete’s sake!

Yes, a lot of what was expected from married women back then meant staying at home and worrying, but that doesn’t mean they all did it.

Another problem is that there’s so MANY wives, more and more as the space program went on. It’s a pretty short book, and each wife gets very little air time. The later wives barely get mentioned at all, and only then by their name and what they looked like. (A LOT of text was spent on describing what the wives looked like, which was kinda weird.) Some of the early wives, like Betty, got more of the spotlight, but I got the impression that was more because they were available to talk to the author than anything else. If the author had deliberately just focused on the original set of wives it might have gone a little better, because she would have had the room to really go in depth on each wife.

Yet another problem: I didn’t get the sense that this was a heavily researched book. It felt more like the author did a lot of interviews, read some astronaut memoirs, and called it a day. It’s a light book, and it’s not very well-written, stylistically. It felt like I was reading a college freshman’s essay instead of a biography/history.

Somehow, what should have been very exciting and important part of American history got turned into a terrifically boring story.

Read: June 8, 2014

I feel like there also should have been some kind of social commentary about some of the things that were going on during the book. Like, almost all the astronauts cheated on their wives. I wish there had been something about WHY that was, whether it was the circumstances or the times or because something about being an air force pilots makes men more likely to cheat (idk)– SOMETHING. More in depth discussion and research and HISTORY, please!

  1. See: my great love for scifi, particularly space operas.
  2. sidenote, the inclusion of what the press was like back then was one of the more interesting parts of the book. Think today’s paparazzi is insane? They were like that in the 1960s, too!

2 thoughts on “The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel”

  1. I LOVE SPACE. I get super excited any time there’s any kind of news story about rocket launches, or NASA anything, or like new Saturn’s getting a new moon (guess what? Saturn is getting a new moon! It’s happening right now!). And I was excited about this book for a while, and then I read several lukewarm reviews and gave up on it. 🙁

    I LOVE your summary of what happens to each husband/wife pair.

    1. JENNY JENNY JENNY omg do you listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s podcast, StarTalk? Because if you don’t you need to get on that STAT; I’m just now listening to an interview with the leader of the Cassini mission and it’s great!

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