02 May 2015

Review of The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

Title:  The Astronaut Wives Club

Author:  Lily Koppel

Publication Information:  January 2013

How I Got This Book:  I bought it at work.

Goodreads Synopsis: 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.

My Thoughts:  I had a great time reading this book!  It read like a novel, but it was a well-researched non-fiction history on a topic that surprisingly had never been covered before.  Koppel conducted interviews with the surviving Astrowives and read the usual primary source documents.  Her narrative is truly compelling.

I had seen this book by chance at work one day and was interested.  After a recent viewing of Apollo 13, I immediately purchased a copy of the book and started as soon as I could.  Then I began seeing the previews for the upcoming TV show based on the book.  I am so excited about the show!  And I'm curious to see how closely it will follow the book and how much it will veer off into total fiction.  Either way, it's going to be interesting!

I loved how Koppel set up the narrative to show that these women were supposed to be utterly and completely traditional, while also being a part of the latest and greatest in technology via their husbands' work, and contrasting them with the women's movement going on outside of their world. As pseudo-celebrities, they had to suffer in silence while their husbands slept around.  By the end of the space program, most of them got divorced, which I thought was surprising, but it also made sense due to the tremendous pressure of their husbands' work.

I was very happy to see how the women grew as time passed.  They started standing up for themselves to their husbands and to NASA.  One eventually became a very vocal proponent of the women's movement, having her own feminist talk show.  Some of them had to deal with losing their husbands in a very public manner and then try to rebuild and restart their lives.  Many dealt with alcohol and drug problems as coping mechanisms.

Yet the women created a very strong and loving support network, dropping everything in the case of an emergency, staying throughout the entirety of a flight operation with food and drinks in hand.  It was a very strong community, which I thought was absolutely fantastic.

My one gripe about the book is that as the narrative progressed, Koppel seemed to rush through events and spoke less about the later astronauts' wives than about the earlier ones.  The whole Apollo 13 mission got about a page and a half, if that.  So I would have liked to see more, more, more.

All in all, it was a very fun read that was more like a novel than a cut and dry history.  I highly recommend it.  I think this would make a pretty good book club read and my edition has book club materials (discussion questions, recipes, an author interview) in the back.

1 comment:

  1. I think maybe Koppel just didn't feel like she could really get to know every one of the wives as the group increased in size. And maybe there just weren't enough unique and interesting stories once it got to be a bigger group where the experiences were less likely to be all new. Except those Apollo 13 wives who did deserve more coverage.

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