I know that movie GRAVITY came out over the weekend or so, but there's no way I want to watch it. Not even with a group of friends beside me going, "It's just a movie!" I'm not a fan of flying in general; and the thought of going into outer space holds even less appeal.
But the women of the 1950s and 1960s does appeal to me. They're the precursors of the second wave of women's lib, and I just find women in this time period thriving and surviving utterly fascinating. All my understanding of women at this time is that they were all wonderful cooks, perfect mothers, and the hostess with the mostess. Apparently this is the myth the culture worked so hard to create.
THE ASTRONAUTS WIVES CLUB is a memoir of sorts (written by an outsider, who did research on these women, because oddly enough: no one had written about them before) of the wives of the first astronauts. The Mercury 7, then the ones who followed for the Gemini and Apollo missions. (I believe they're referred to as the 7, 14, and 19, in the book, but some of the astronauts seem to overlap and I never quite figured that part out. It would have been nice to have a few pages where it listed everyone so I knew the "cast" better.)
So imagine you're a woman in this era, married to a test pilot, and he gets recommended for a project of taking man to the moon. You're a good wife--it scares you to death, obviously, but if your husband really wants to do this, you'll support him. As soon as you agree to this, you basically enter a realm of a precursor to the show Big Brother, where media is filming you all the time, watching your every move. But unlike Big Brother, where you are encouraged to be yourself and let it all hang out for the sake of the experiment, you know you have to put up a stoic front at all times, never let them catch you unawares, and if the worse should happen, respond with, "He died doing what he loved." Oh, and while you're playing this role, you're also basically raising your kids as a single mom; and if you're truly blessed, your husband loves to cat around and NASA doesn't care so long as you never meet the cookie on the side. Good times.
On the upside, you have a group of women all in the same boat as you. You meet, you have coffee, you talk, but because of this role you need to play to make sure your husband gets to go to space (after all, only marriages that were solid allowed the men the "prime" spots), you didn't get to talk about what really matters: my husband is cheating, my husband may die, or anything of significance. You do get to laugh a bit at the whole "NASA expects me to cook my husband a hearty breakfast each morning of steak and eggs"--because ironically several of these women weren't really good cooks. Or so the book seems to imply. At least cooking was not the skill these men married them for.
And what happens in the end, when you've given the best performance of your life, loved these men to the best of your ability--and his ability to let you, they divorce you. The fake it until you make it does not work here; and many of these marriages burned out. Of course, what was great was reading how these women were even preparing for that disaster and made new lives and careers for themselves, always thriving and surviving next to their glamorous, exciting astronaut husbands, whom they were admonished NOT to steal the spotlight from.
But in this book, the spotlight is all on them--and I applaud them. What great, courageous, wonderful, loving women--and in several of the astronauts' cases, what wonderful husbands as well. I loved reading and getting to know all of them; and I can only hope this book reaches even more readers and shares the histories and hopes and fears and successes of these women with the world.
I agree with some of the reviews it got a little confusing after you got to know the Mercury 7 wives; however, I was able to press on and keep most of it straight--and what I couldn't figure out, Google helped. I recommend with enthusiasm.
What are you reading?