Thursday, March 23, 2017

Book Review: "The Astronaut Wives Club" by Lily Koppel

I had been interested in this book for a while now.  The space program has always fascinated me, and I'd never heard of anything dedicated to this story before: the story of the women behind the first astronauts.  They were a tight group; women all going through the same thing, all loyal to their hero husbands (even when they weren't loyal to them), all under the thumb of NASA who believed a happy marriage was key to a successful astronaut.

Their stories all take place in the 50s and 60s Texas, where almost all of the astronaut families lived in the same couple of communities.  During launches, celebrations, or tragedies - these women came together to support each other in a way that no one else could.  Then they would have to turn around and be the image of a perfect wife and mother for the reporters and ever-present Life magazine journalists and photographers.  The stress of this lifestyle took its toll on the marriages and in the end, the majority ended in divorce.

As fascinating as this story was, I feel pretty underwhelmed by the writing here.  It is mostly a loosely constructed collection of anecdotes told mostly (but not always) chronologically.  There were quite a few astronauts and therefore quite a few wives, and it was hard to keep track of who was who.  I felt like a lot of the commentary surrounded clothing and notoriety - and while White House visits are very exciting, I never felt like I really got to know any of these wives; I didn't really get into what they were really thinking and feeling during this time.  And maybe that is how the wives relayed their story to the author; it is clear that even when the wives all got together, they never talked about their true feeling or fears.  But I would have hoped that a book like this would have gotten a little deeper than it did.  Also, as a librarian, I have to make note of the fact that while the photos are credited (and I loved the photos!), there are no footnotes, citation, or bibliography.  Part of the Reading Group Guide in my edition includes an author's note on writing this book in which she talks about the many interviews and meetings she conducted.... but that's it.

The Astronaut Wives Club
by Lily Koppel
Grand Central, 2014.  First published 2013.
302 pages
Source:  Gift


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