The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story
By Lily Koppel
(Grand Central Publishing, Hardcover, 9781455503254, June 2013, 288pp.)
The Short of It:
A behind the scenes, not so pleasant look at the women behind the Mercury Seven astronauts. Makes for a good beach read as it was pretty hard to put down.
The Rest of It:
Oh! These women! I had no idea what they went through. They were so perfect on the outside, almost Stepford-like, and yet they dealt with some seriously tough issues. On top of the everyday stress of being an astronaut’s wife, they also had to adhere to a certain standard, one that required them to dress and talk a certain way, not to mention LIVE a certain way. Their housing was pretty much determined for them, and yes, they received some perks for being part of the space program, but the really big decisions were not made by the families themselves.
Together, these women forge a bond with each other. They share a lot of the same concerns so naturally, they spend a lot of time together and in essence, become one big family. But the infidelity of many of the astronauts was a surprise to me. Many of these men kept women on the side and their wives were well aware of it, but not really able to do much about it since broken homes were considered a weakness for any astronaut being considered for flight.
This bothered me. I am not a fan of women that allow men to treat them poorly and keeping a “Suzie” on the side would have sent me over the edge had it been happening to me, but at the same time, it’s almost as if these women knew what they were signing up for when they married these men. They didn’t like the fact that their husbands were cheating on them, but they considered it par for the course and put up with it.
The promise of new clothes, nice homes and strategic magazine covers seemed to appease them, until their husbands are in space and their return becomes uncertain. Then, the resentment sets in as well as the worry. What will happen to them if their husbands die on a mission? Will they be able to stay in the same home? Will they be forced to move out of the area? Insurance policies are always up-to-date when you are married to an astronaut but these women had children to consider as well and as it turns out, some of these men did die, mostly from experiments on the ground.
The tragic nature of their stories is somewhat tamped down by their royalty status. Hanging out with Jackie Kennedy one minute and trading potluck recipes the next. Plus, the media was fascinated with them and could not get enough of them on camera. Entire homes were built without front windows just to give these women a false sense of privacy. But although they tried their hardest to maintain celebrity status, some days they just weren’t feeling it and that is why the Astronaut Wives Club was formed. It gave them all a chance to let loose and be themselves.
I really enjoyed this book but I felt like a total voyeur peeking into their lives like this. Plus, the politics of flight, who steps foot on the moon first, what comes out of their mouths as the whole world is watching…plays a huge role too. The images of these men and women were played up to make them look really good to the public but as with any marriage, they had their troubles too. And as new missions come-up, so do new astronauts and their new wives. The original seven quickly realize just how short-lived their fame is. It’s a little sad but I’m glad that they women had each other for support.
This is one of those books that you can’t put down. Especially if you are at all fascinated with how celebrities live. I also have a thing for that time period (late 50’s, early 60’s) so I found the combination irresistible. Oh, and did I mention that the TV series based on the book is expected to hit your living room this summer?
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22 thoughts on “Review: The Astronaut Wives Club – A True Story”
I listened to this book and didn’t like it as much as you did. I think I would have liked the focus to be more narrow so that I would have felt like I really knew a few of the wives. Maybe the book suffered for me because it was on audio.
I hear ya. I think the author’s intent was to make them somewhat anonymous. They were all so similar, or so they seemed from the outside looking in. One organism instead of its individual parts.
A TV series?? That should be interesting. I borrowed this from the library last year, but never got a chance to read it… time to check it out again.
They’ve already cast one of the wives but her name did not ring a bell with me. I could see it as a TV series and I think the time period would be interested to spend some time in.
This is the kind of book I wish I could like but I just can’t.
Why can’t you like a book like this? Because it’s non-fiction? It’s campy dysfunction.
Yay! So glad to see more reviews of this one popping up! I think part of that “putting up with a woman on the side” thing was as much a part of the time period as them knowing what they were getting into. My grandparents were farmers and they still went through the same thing during the same time period. It blows my mind, totally, but it makes me wonder, too.
I’m sure it was part of the time period. I mean, look at Jackie! It was known to everyone that knew her that John had a lady, or two, or Marilyn… on the side. LOL. But at the same time, those women were bad asses!! Tough in other ways. They accepted the deaths of their husbands with such grace. It was like they had been preparing for it all their lives.
I think in those days it was really difficult for women to assert themselves, especially vis a vis their husbands. Even when I was growing up, divorce was like the worst stigma in the universe, and plus it would have been difficult for women to support themselves alone.
You make a good point. They could not make a living on their own, so they were ultimately dependent upon their husbands. I think when some of them died, and they received those life insurance pay outs, they became more independent and dare I say it… happy. Even the kids seemed somewhat immune to the danger factor.
Wow, this sounds so interesting and yet so unsettling…
I did like this book, but felt like I never really got to know any one woman since there were so many to keep track of. I wished I would have paid attention to the space unit we had in school (sixth grade science) and if they would have added a personal element like this book, I am sure I would have listened much better since all we did was memorize the missions. Ugh. Now I have started the documentary/mini-series, From Earth to the Moon and am amazed. I would love to read this book again after I am done with that since I think I would have a better picture of these wives and could connect them to their husbands and the missions.
That is the one criticism everyone has noted about this book, that you don’t get to know any one woman. Objectification of women is not something I approve of but these women were like a breed of their own. An entity, if you will. They reacted together, raised their kids together and mourned together. I’m not sure they knew how to be independent or different from one another.
I passed on this one last year, mostly because the military has not changed that much. There is still an expectation that military wives deport themselves with the utmost decorum. There is more politicking as a military spouse than anywhere else I’ve experienced. I can appreciate the danger and the worry that these women faced. But honestly, I sent my husband off for a year so that he could go blow up old and unstable ammunition in war-torn areas of Europe. I’ve done the worry and the danger part of it, and I did it by myself. I’m not certain I want to relive that no matter how intrigued I am by the pioneers of the space program.
I probably won’t read this one, but loved learning about it through your review. Those 60’s women put up with a lot of crap.
I just finished this one. I had no idea there was a TV show being made from it!
You’ve convinced me to read this. I wasn’t all that sold on it, but it’s like you said – almost voyeurish that it’s hard to look the other way.
I was surprised by both the bonds and the frictions between these ladies. Imagine living with knowing your spouse is cheating, worrying that he could die at any moment and knowing that all of America is watching how you handle all of it? And we think our lives are stressful!
I guess they felt it was worth the glamour of it all. If you could call it that.
It sounds like a fascinating time and read. It’s too bad things weren’t more liberated (?) then, or that the wives allowed themselves to be treated poorly. That part would be tough to read for me. But perhaps it’s balanced out by other stuff ? cheers
I think those women were okay with most of it only because they were well aware of how life would be once they married these men. The charm and glitz of being in that group was perhaps enough for most of them. But the stress would have killed me!
One of my absolute favorite college courses that I ever took was called History of the US Space Program. We learned it all and it was so much fun. I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages. Thanks for reminding me about it! I’m such a space nerd.
Jessica @ Tales Between the Pages