Book Review: The Astronauts' Wives Club by Lily Koppel
The Astronauts' Wives Club by Lily Koppel
This is fabulously good narrative non-fiction that follows the real life story of the wives behind the American Space Race. In the ‘50s seven astronauts were chosen for the Mercury missions. Their wives featured on the cover of LIFE magazine and on TV and became famous virtually overnight. The seven women were expected to put on brave smiles for the media, but behind the scenes life was a complicated soap opera, with high society events, designer fashion, motorcades and travel, but also press intrusion, infidelity, terrible loneliness, alcoholism and suicide. Some of the women ended up being widowed, many ended up divorced with only a few marriages lasting the distance.
The unique personalities of the different women really shine through in this book. Rene Carpenter is the Marilyn Monroe blonde-bombshell and JFK’s favourite. Trudy Cooper has the guilty secret of having been divorced previously. Annie Glenn is the envy of the other wives, despite a severe stutter. Betty Grissom is fiercely house proud. Louise Shepherd turns a blind eye to her husband’s many affairs (as do many of the other wives). Jo Shirra likes to race her husband on the highways in their cars. Margarie Slayton is fiercely protective of her husband Deke who has a heart murmur. And after the original seven, the author introduces us to the other wives that followed in the Gemini and Apollo mission, all equally as memorable.
The book spans an amazing era of history and it is fascinating seeing all the major events of the space race from the wives’ point of view. NASA expected the women to be perfect Stepford Wives, raising their families in their perfect American pie homes, but by the ‘70s many of them began to buck the trend – Rene Carpenter, in particular, going on to be a newspaper columnist and TV host, with feminist opinions of her own. This is a well researched book and the author has interviewed many of the women featured. I’d highly recommend this fascinating and readable book.