The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel

astronaut-wives-clubI picked up The Astronaut Wives Club after hearing an interview with author Lily Koppel on the radio. Such an interesting and over looked topic: the lives of the wives of the first astronauts. Along with their husbands, they were thrown into the spotlight and had to appear to be loving and supportive of their partner’s choice to risk their lives in the name of glory. These women were left at home alone to put up with the pressures of Life magazine and other media outlets peering in their windows while they attempt a life of normalcy, though there was nothing normal about their situation.

The Astronaut Wives Club starts by chronicling the wives of the Mercury Seven, that is the earliest astronauts. I think it may have been a more successful book if it had stuck to just those seven. Instead, Koppel opens the field to the wives of later missions as well. This gives the book a snapshot feel, jumping back and forth among all the different wives. Because much of the book is set during the burgeoning days of the feminist movement in the United States, I think a much more nuanced and intelligent look at the period could have been achieved by looking at only a few wives in greater depth.

The Astronaut Wives Club is both interesting and a quick read. Koppel comes from the magazine and newspaper world and I think her talents may lie in short form journalism. I found the writing style to be more suited to a magazine piece than a full length treatment. Koppel jumps back and forth from one wife to the next so quickly that I could not keep them straight. Instead of emphasizing the strengths each woman brought to the group, the effect is to make them seem almost indistinguishable. Given the important role these women played in history and how they have been shoved to the backseat they deserve a more insightful and introspective treatment.

Who would enjoy this book? The Astronaut Wives Club book gives fascinating insight into the lives of these women. Without too much detail or historical reflection you are served up an interesting read that resembles something you might find in People magazine. I think for someone with a greater knowledge of the early space programs the book may be a little light and inconsequential in spite of the fact that it is the only study of the early astronaut wives. Overall, it is a rather gossipy book that neglects to assert the intelligence and individuality of these women.