I just finished reading a book called The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel. I saw it in at least one magazine, if not multiple magazines, as a “summer” book suggestion, and I uncharacteristically added it to my Amazon wishlist before it was even released! I don’t have a fan girl personality and I’m usually late to trends, but I love a good historical nonfiction account. I resisted buying it the day it came out, but a few days after, when I found myself without a book to read, I snagged it for my Kindle and dove in immediately. However, just a few pages in I was already disappointed.
The concept is fascinating: the true story of the wives behind the famous astronauts. For real life, they created an actual Astronaut Wives Club. Having come mostly from military backgrounds, they were used to the structure of the Officers’ Wives Club. Plus, given that they were essentially thrust into the national spotlight as soon as their husbands were selected by NASA, they needed a strong support group. AND, they were dealing with highly stressful situations while the men they loved were, you know, blasted off into the ether on experimental rockets! So needless to say the club was super important to them.
The book lacked any structure at all, though, and I kept losing track of which wife was being talked about. The chapter breaks seemed completely arbitrary, and the author jumped from subject to subject with every new paragraph. She tried so hard to cover the entire span of the space race that no one incident or character was explored in much detail. The recounting was done in a totally summary manner, sans emotion or fluff. I felt almost like I might as well have been reading a Wikipedia article!
It also felt like the author had decided ahead of time what she wanted to say, rather than doing extensive research and letting that shape the theme of the book. I really appreciate a well-researched nonfiction book, even if it’s not on a topic I necessarily care that much about. The details, when it’s clear that the author has worked her tail off to include them, draw me in. Not so with this book. It seemed like she wanted it to be a book about feminism, and the changes that took place from the 1950s in the ’60s, and then from the ’60s into the ’70s. And since the space race spanned just about that time period, she tried to force the wives’ stories into a book about feminism. But it wasn’t working for me. As she arbitrarily dropped in snippets about what was happening in the feminist timeline, it made the descriptions of the wives’ “stereotypical” roles feel demeaning and forced. If she was going to paint them as stereotypes, I would rather read the original Life magazine articles that described them that way! It felt unfair the way the author described them, when she was supposed to be taking a sympathetic stance to tell their stories for the first time.
Furthermore, something about the writing was just off. The sentences came across as juvenile, and there was no flow. But even though it sounds like I’m telling you very clearly what I didn’t like about the book, I have a hard time pinpointing exactly what it was that didn’t work. I felt the whole time like I wanted someone else to read it and help me figure out why I thought the book was so bad!
So there you have it: an invitation. Sure, I’ve just slammed The Astronaut Wives Club for over 500 words, but I’d love for you to read it. I’d love for you to read it and help me decipher why, exactly, it didn’t live up to they hype. And who knows? Maybe it will for you. Maybe I am overly critical and too harsh a judge of language. I finished the book in spite of all this, but I feel like it only whet my appetite for wanting to know more about these women, and about the space race in general. Any other books you can recommend on that topic? Not like my to-read list needs any expanding, but it never hurts to ask!