Day 1080: Moonglow

Cover for MoonglowMichael Chabon’s newest novel is supposedly inspired by his grandfather’s stories before he died. But I don’t think we’re supposed to take that literally, if only because he also says the novel was inspired by the stories of his mother’s uncle. In any case, it is a wandering, fascinating story of a complex life.

Grandfather’s stories begin with that of his arrest, when he was fired from his job to provide a place for Alger Hiss, newly out of jail, and attacked the corporation’s vice president. He was left with a hospitalized mentally ill wife and their teenage daughter. But the story wanders back and forth in time from his grandfather’s childhood in Philadelphia, his experiences searching for German scientists at the end of World War II, his work in the space industry. And always, there is his interest in the moon and space travel.

As always, Chabon manages to tackle some weighty topics while entertaining us like crazy. In this novel, he tackles German atrocities during the war and the stain they put on our own space program. Still, Grandfather’s life reads very much like an adventure story.

I really enjoyed this novel, much more so than I did Telegraph Avenue. Sometimes I enjoy Chabon more than other times, but I always find the journey interesting.

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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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