The Astronaut Wives Club
By Lily Koppel
Even though my favorite genre for adults is historical fiction, I do love some nonfiction every once in a while. Last summer, my favorite read was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a go-to for me. That’s why I was so excited to pick up a copy of The Astronaut Wives Club, especially since it has recently come to ABC as a television series.
The book tells the story of the women who supported astronauts like Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and John Glenn as they explored the “final frontier” in the 1960s and 70s. The Astronaut Wives Club is formed as a support network for the women as they navigate raising children, supporting their husbands, and dealing with the press. Lily Koppel allows the reader to visualize the “Death Watch” get togethers that were held when the men went into space, the group workouts at the local gym, and the lavish parties with presidents and celebrities. We learn about the great moments in the women’s lives, as well as the moments that lead to tears and heartbreak.
It’s difficult to summarize the book because it is told more as a series of vignettes than as one cohesive story. Unfortunately, this seems to be a common criticism of the text according to reviews on Goodreads and other blogs. Since the story moves so rapidly from situation to situation and person to person, it’s challenging to keep track of how the characters develop as the story unfolds. Since this is a nonfiction text, the plot isn’t expected to be linear, but while I was reading I found myself wishing that each woman’s story had been discussed in its own chapter. It was easy to mix up the characters and forget what had happened to them earlier in the story. Additionally, it was hard to get insight into the feelings of certain characters. Perhaps more images or quotes from Koppel’s interviews would help readers connect more deeply with the women in the book.
Although the book was hard to follow, it did have its strengths. Women like Joan Aldrin, Betty Grissom, Marge Slayton, and Rene Carpenter had absolutely incredible stories, and Lily Koppel certainly captures some of the “behind the scenes” events that occurred during the Space Race. The real life experiences of the wives are this book’s strongest asset, as the stories are interesting and were untold until now.
If you’re interested in the Space Race, the 1960s, women’s rights, or nonfiction in general, you may enjoy this read. I’m looking forward to seeing it come to life as a television series this summer!
Title: Astronaut Wives Club
Author: Lily Koppel
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Price: US $23.00
Source: My Local Library (Find yours!)