Book Review: The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel
by Lily Koppel
Grand Central Publishing, 2013
Times have changed since the late 1950s and early 1960s when question marks ended sentences like these: Would the space program ever develop a capsule that wouldn’t explode on takeoff? Would men ever walk on the moon? What would the wives wear to the launch?
Now astronauts like Chris Hadfield tweet from space to more than a million followers. Today the moon is old news. Next stop, Mars. Now a woman could be the astronaut, not just the spouse of one.
Our blasé acceptance of split-second universal communications, space travel, and gender parity mean we must work to recapture the wonder, innocence and gender separation of North America in the mid-20th Century. We must work to remember why the first astronauts became overnight celebrities who inspired awe in their fellow Americans.
The Astronaut Wives Club travels back in time to examine the nascent American space program from a female perspective. While the astronauts trained away from home for weeks at a time, their wives wore lipstick, raised the kids and tried to ignore rumours of infidelity. While the men competed fiercely with each other to be “first” in space, and then”first” on the moon, their wives shared tea and ham loaf together and pretended not to care. While the astronauts strapped themselves to “flying tin cans” full of several hundred pounds of explosive liquid oxygen, their wives plastered brave smiles on their faces and paced the floors.
Lily Koppel tells the story of the women behind the men who became heroes. These women evolved from military wives who used coupons, to celebrity wives driving in sports cars with their husbands to lunch with the Kennedys. Some of these women evolved from astronaut wives to ex-wives, or widows. Some of these women evolved from “wife of” to “celebrity in her own right.” Koppel tells the stories that Life in the 1960s didn’t. She scrapes the plaster off the cracks of infidelity, alcoholism, loneliness and depression that the astronauts, the women themselves, and the space agency tried to smooth over.
I enjoyed the first part of this book—the stories of the “original seven” wives of the first astronauts—the most. The sudden and dramatic changes to the lives of those people, and the tale of the birth of the space age from a female perspective made interesting reading. As the space program advanced and more and more wives joined “the club” the book lost its way. There were too many women to cover effectively, and the book began to read like society page rundowns of who wore what and who was friends with whom.
Posted on November 20, 2013, in Biography, Book Club, Book reviews, Books for the beach, Books I borrowed and tagged Astronaut, Astronaut spouses, Astronaut Wives Club, Chris Hadfield, Houston, Lily Koppel, NASA. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.