Day 747: Literary Wives! The Astronaut Wives Club

Cover for The Astronaut Wives ClubToday is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives! If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

* * *

The Astronaut Wives Club just plain irritated me. I don’t know why such a potentially interesting story had to be written as if it was chick lit. If I had had to read one more description of an outfit before the end of the book, I would have screamed.

The book tells the stories of the wives of the astronauts from the beginning of the space program in the 1960’s until the manned exploration program was cancelled in the early 70’s. It keeps its focus on the wives with admirable intention but sometimes unfortunate results, as its determination not to focus on their husbands’ activities, even in moments important in history, sometimes sucks any potential drama right out of the book. For example, anyone who has seen Apollo 13 knows what a stressful bunch of hours those must have been for the families. Yet, the mission gets a bare few paragraphs in the book.

Since the wives were determined to keep their family lives private and their upper lips stiff, what are we left with? Well, basically the kinds of things Life magazine wrote about in the 60’s, the glitz, the perks, the outfits, the parades, the parties. We get so little insight into the wives’ characters that well into the book, I was still unable to connect very many wives’ first names with their last names or remember which one was the pilot. Although we learn a little more about their home lives than the public did in the 60’s, for example, whose husbands were unfaithful or the pressures the wives were under from NASA to present the front of a perfect family, we still get to know very little about the individual women. I recently saw a one-hour TV program about the Apollo wives that told more about what they were feeling than this entire book did!

I believe I was also handicapped by getting an electronic copy from Netgalley that did not have any photos in it. It may have been easier for me to keep the wives apart if I could have had photos to refer to as the other Literary Wives did. All I had was the cover of the book showing the first group of wives, in such a small size that I couldn’t see their faces.

link to NetgalleyThe level of information presented sometimes reminds me of the horrors of watching Entertainment Tonight! For example, at the beginning of Chapter 8 about the parties in Houston, Koppel tells us that a society person she mentions was played by Julia Roberts in a recent movie, a completely gratuitous comment. On the other hand, Koppel is so determined not to get technical in her approach to a general audience that she describes almost nothing of the missions. In a relatively lengthy description of Apollo 8, she twice mentions a maneuver called a trans-earth injection that Susan Gorman was worried about without once explaining what it is. I would like to see this subject handled again by someone who is willing to do more research than thumbing through old Life articles.

Literary Wives logoWhat does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife? In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

NASA pretty much defined what wives were in their concern that the astronauts’ families appear to be perfect representatives of America. This definition was strictly by the standards of the 1950’s. Wives were housewives who got up at 5 AM to make steak and eggs for their husbands’ breakfasts. The wives were expected to show support for their husbands no matter what was going on in their marriages, to ignore infidelities, and to do everything possible to keep stress away. They also weren’t supposed to show any stress during their husbands’ missions. NASA controlled them to the point of telling them what to wear before their first photo shoot.

Being a wife also had a lot to do with protecting your privacy and that of your family. This habit extended so far that Koppel didn’t really get much more out of them in her recent interviews than they were willing to say in the 50’s and 60’s.

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10 thoughts on “Day 747: Literary Wives! The Astronaut Wives Club

  1. Emily J. August 3, 2015 / 3:01 pm

    I LOVE how you called it “chick lit,” but honestly, I’ve read some chick lit that is better done and a lot more engaging! I agree that you were at a disadvantage with not having the photos. That helped me (a little) to keep the women straight, but like you I had a hard time matching up first and last names and husbands and places they lived, especially when the second group of women entered the picture.

    • whatmeread August 3, 2015 / 3:03 pm

      I think if she’d been able to portray the wives more as individuals, we wouldn’t have had this problem. I’ve read better chick lit, too! I just was surprised to have a work of nonfiction take that tone.

  2. Naomi August 3, 2015 / 7:31 pm

    It would be good to see this story done by someone else in a better way. There are so many potential stories here, that I think she missed an opportunity. I did learn some stuff about how the space program worked, and was appalled by the way the women were treated. I would be interested in seeing the TV series just to see what they do with it, but I still can’t help but think it would be impossible for everything to be done accurately.

    • whatmeread August 4, 2015 / 7:31 am

      I agree. I think this could have been a wonderful book if handled differently. I suspect the TV series won’t stay very close to actuality. I don’t think it’s supposed to be a documentary, but a fictional series.

  3. Lynn @ Smoke & Mirrors August 3, 2015 / 8:20 pm

    I wonder just how much information the wives were willing to give… Also, I seriously wonder if they had to sign away their rights to publish autobiographies? I would be interested to read one if they were ever published. I agree about the wifely rules being 1950’s, Kay. As I think about it, the ’60’s were when protesters were burning bras, etc., and housewives were striking–however, that certainly was NOT the norm in society, regarding marriage especially, overall, the U.S. was still mired in the ’50’s “Leave It to Beaver” model! 🙂 No better examples than these women!

    • whatmeread August 4, 2015 / 7:34 am

      I thought that maybe the wives were being close-mouthed, but that was before I saw a one-hour series on the Apollo wives, where they seemed to be willing to talk about things. I doubt if they had to sign any of their rights away to write a biography. I don’t think people can be kept from writing their own biographies. It’s true, the wives seemed to be behind the times, but I remember how my mother was in the 50’s, and it was very much the same, except she didn’t have reporters on the lawn! Or fancy clothes and parties! But yeah, later on they were stuck in the 50’s I think because that’s how NASA wanted it.

  4. The Paperback Princess August 4, 2015 / 11:21 am

    I read this because I wanted to get a handle on the material before I started watching the show. I don’t mind saying that I totally love the show. But the women actually have personalities, dreams, desires, and you actually get a glimpse into what it must have been like for them. The book didn’t frustrate me as much as it did you when I was reading it, but reading your post I certainly nodded my head more than once! I think Koppel tried to do too much with too little. She tried to cover ALL the wives over a period of what? 10 years? 15? I also had trouble figuring out which wife belonged to who. The show is a lot better but I think they are probably going to start picking and choosing what to use and what to write themselves.

    • whatmeread August 4, 2015 / 11:39 am

      Yes, it was too unfocused. Either settling on the first group or limiting it in some other way would have been more effective. Is the TV show presented as fictionalized? Do you think the stuff they’re showing you is actually about the real people or are they making up things?

      • The Paperback Princess August 4, 2015 / 11:51 am

        No, they litter the episodes with actual footage of the launches to make the point that these were real people and this stuff really happened. The big stuff I think is still the same but the writers are fairly free to write the daily interactions between the women and their reactions behind closed doors. There’s no way to know if these are the real women but I appreciate that they aren’t doormats.

      • whatmeread August 4, 2015 / 11:53 am

        Hmmm, interesting mix.

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