Title: The Astronaut Wives Club
Author: Lily Koppel
This book has shown up in several “Summer Reading” lists; other reviewers have tagged it as a perfect beach read.
I am not quite sure if I still know what a Beach Read is, because in my mind this book is not what I think of when I picture myself lying beside a body of water and escaping into print.
As a NASA geek who has seen The Right Stuff, From Earth To The Moon, and Apollo 13 at least a dozen times each, I was excited when I initially saw this non-fiction book crop up. The episode of HBO’s From Earth To The Moon which dealt with the wives’ travails was arguably the most poignant of that series and I chomped at the bit for the more in-depth story a book was sure to provide.
It started off annoyingly, essentially copying the first chapter of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff (The book upon which the movie was based.) I was cranky because here this book was, purporting to tell “the untold story” and then starting off by retelling a story I’d heard told a thousand times. Eventually the book moved away from introductions and into the more personal recountings of the various wives. I learned interesting things I hadn’t heard before about the Mercury and Gemini programs. But mostly what I learned was that the astronauts were fickle men with girls in every port and that Deke Slayton encouraged a policy where wives lived in Houston and “Cape Cookie” mistresses lived in the area surrounding Cape Canaveral (later renamed Cape Kennedy).
That’s why I can’t just embrace this book as some sort of fun and happy beach read. Because reading a seemingly never-ending litany of breaking and broken marriages interspersed with Buzz Aldrin’s post-Lunar depression just isn’t “Beach read” material. Interesting? Yes. Educational? At times. Fun? No. Not on your life.
One of the main things that annoyed me was that the book continually described the various women in terms of how pretty they were, at one point naming one of the women as “the most attractive.” That is some serious garbage right there, especially in a book that claims to be promoting the ideals of sisterhood and female mutual support societies.
In the end the book is heavily skewed toward the Mercury 7 and the Gemini New Nine astronauts and their families; I suspect this is because many of those people are now dead and not as likely to be as offended by the long focus on their clay feet.
So what do I rate this? It’s another two-parter rating system–sadly enough. If you are a NASA geek who is into the Space Program and its history this is definitely a must-read as it gives a lot of detail overlooked in other accounts. For you I’d say it’s a four-worm book.
If you’re a person looking for something to tuck into your beach bag or download onto your Kindle so that you can while away the hours in the sand…I’m calling this a two-worm book. It’s interesting, sure. It’s well-written after the first chapter, so I can’t in good conscious say it’s a 1-worm book. But it is NOT a fun read. It’s sad and it’s dark and discouraging. Find a Debbie Macomber or Mary Roach instead.