The Astronaut Wives Club

By Lisa Koppel

“On his previous Apollo 10 mission, a “dry run” for Apollo 11, Geno had radioed back to Houston that riding around the Moon was a piece of cake. “It was definitely not a piece of cake for me,” said Barbara. “If you think going to the Moon is hard, try staying at home.”

This book was very much a page-turner for me. At turns funny, dishy, and sad. It’s a great thumbnail sketch of what women’s lives were like in the ’60s. It would have been improved had the author scaled down a bit and focused more on the original 7 or maybe 9 and gone deeper.

I picked this up because I loved The Right Stuff and have read it several times. I would have liked to have had more of the wives’ reaction to that book which really defined them in the public eye in such an irreverent but ultimately respectful way. The only mention was when the author reported that one of the women threw TRS across the room because of her objection to Tom Wolfe comparing their group to the Officers Wives Club. Huh? That’s what was cherry-picked? And what is the name of this book again? It seems very self-serving of Koppel to only use this reference to Tom Wolfe’s book when any book on the astronauts or their wives owes so much to it.

The Right Stuff really gave the Astronaut Wives their due in both lyrical and hilarious prose. Many of the anecdotes were first told in Wolfe’s masterpiece and told much better. The dramatic confrontation between John Glenn trying to protect his shy wife from the press and Vice-President Johnson made you bite your nails and then stand up and cheer. Especially when the other 5 had his back regardless of their rivalries and jealousies. Tom Wolfe’s incisive reveal of the travails of Betty Grissom, and their self-aware inside jokes such as Mr. and Mrs. “Primly and Squarely Stable” when they were anything but are included here. I wish it had taken off from there and gone deeper rather than lamely rehashing entertaining but old material. I would have loved to read what Wolfe would have had to say about Pat White and her ultimate suicide, Alan Shepard barring one of the widows from her dead husband’s things, the interesting characters of Buzz Aldrin, Edgar Mitchell, and Alan Bean, and many others.

That being said, I have to hand it to Lily Koppel: she does give a glance at some of the quirkiness and bizarre personality traits some of the wives had to cope with in their husbands. Unfortunately, it is only a glimpse. It is more of reportage rather than interpretation and insights into the great drama and comedy it was. The book would also have benefited from getting some of the men’s perspectives and musings, now that they are old.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

July 17, 2013

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