Friday, April 10, 2015

The Astronaut Wives Club

Book 4 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from Jan. 12 - Jan. 19

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

Summary (via Goodreads)
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 Opinion
The book starts off with an explanation of how The Astronaut Wives Club came to be.  The pressure wasn't just on the men who were among the first to go into space but also on their wives to be presentable/articulate for reporters, to have orderly lives/homes/children so their husbands would be able to focus on their jobs, and to basically have their world turned upside down with sudden publicity and scrutiny.  The wives learned very quickly that nobody would be able to understand this better than the other wives so they formed a club; besides meeting regularly they also supported and helped each other. 

Although it talks about space and NASA the main focus is the women.  It was an interesting look back at a different time.  Some of the criteria NASA used to determine which applicants to choose was the stability of their family (one woman stayed married to her husband because she knew how important this was to him and he wouldn't have been chosen if they had divorced) and how many times per week their wife cooked a meal at home; it seems silly now but it was very serious then.  The book ended with the stat that after all the pressure, only 7 of the 30 couples mentioned in the book stayed together and the Astronaut Wives Club has been renamed the Original Wives Club.

Although it sounded incredibly stressful and I wouldn't want to be scrutinized that closely (or have to deal with my husband having groupies, ha!) there were perks as well and they seemed to become accustomed to them pretty quickly. I found the story of how they all wore pink lipstick for their group cover photo of Life and were surprised to see it was changed to red lipstick when the issue printed (the magazine felt bright red was "more patriotic" than pink) funny and strange.  I also felt bad for the wife that stuttered and how much she practiced so it wouldn't be noticeable during her obligatory press statements. 

I wonder if it's a coincidence that most of the scandal/dirt was about Alan and Louise Shepard and they're both deceased.  I don't think the stories are untrue necessarily but I think some things are easier to say when you know they won't be reading it.

Overall I found it to be a bit uneven.  When she focused on the Mercury 7 wives it was a 5 star read for me.  As she moved beyond them I didn't enjoy it as much because it felt like she kept introducing people without spending much time on them so I didn't know them and had trouble keeping them straight (even the description of the book only mentioned the original 7).  I would've either stopped and made the book solely about the Mercury 7 or expanded and given more space to later wives/missions (Apollo 13 is a pretty famous mission and there wasn't much about what their wives were feeling at all, surprising based on the focus given to earlier missions).

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Joan was heartbroken. She swore she'd never have another monkey." ~ I think this is funny to quote without giving any context whatsoever.

"The monthly coffees and teas of the Astronaut Wives Club served the same purpose [Marge] did: 'If you need us, come'."

"Because of what you have done, the heavens have become a part of man's world. As you talk to us from the Sea of Tranquility, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to bring peace and tranquility to Earth. For one priceless moment, in the whole history of man, all the people on Earth are truly one." ~ President Nixon to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during his phone call from the White House to the moon

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