Check out the other co-hosting bloggers' reviews:
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J
Naomi of Consumed by Ink
Kay of whatmeread
I would like to begin this review with a bit of a personal dislcaimer: I have never really found myself overly enthused about NASA space programs. As a child I was not particularly enamored with the idea of being an astronaut or the specific space missions, etc., though I do remember the disbelief and awe I felt as a teenager watching the moon landing on TV. I was always amazed that any human could endure the physical challenges to become astronauts and fly these missions. At that point in time I never considered much about these men's wives and families. Of course, I was a self-centric teen at the time, and I don't recall much coverage other than showing photos once in a while of the respective wife/wives. As this book demonstrates, it was a time when U.S. society was still strongly patriarchal, overwhelming much thought of the females or children connected to these males, other than depicting them as the quintessential support systems for these men. For example, although I lived through these times, I honestly can't recall much about the wives or families of these men, but I was still young, perhaps I would have paid more attention as an adult. I would highly recommend this book as a way to better realize life at that time in U.S. society. Wives were just wives for the most part at that time; still directly linked to their husbands and not considered as independent individuals overall.
Divorce was taboo at the space agency, which believed that stable home lives were essential for success in orbit. One of the first among NASA's many unofficial rules was: if you don't have a happy marriage, you won't have a spaceflight. (15)
So, basically, no matter what happened in your marriage, you were expected to put on a "happy face" and pretend all was well, or your husband's career as an astronaut was over.
Though still not thrilled that their own husbands hadn't been picked to go up first, the other wives did have to admit Louise made a wonderful First Lady of Space (57)
Richard Nixon threw a celebratory ball for the Astronauts after the moon landing:
All the astronauts were at the ball, from the Nineteen to the Fourteen to the New Nine to the original Mercury Seven. Eight astronauts had been lost along the way--Ted Freeman, Elliot See, Charlie Bassett, Gus Grissom, Ed White, Roger Chaffee, Ed Givens, and C.C. Williams--but with six months to spare, America had landed on the Moon, fulfilling Kennedy's goal to reach it before the end of the sixties. It was perhaps the greatest adventure America had ever undertaken, a Manhattan Project for peace. (233)
However, in the aftermath there was at least one mental health breakdown and one suicide among the astronauts and their wives. Although perhaps those simply reflected comparable stats among society at large at that time. In relating Buzz Aldrin's difficulty adapting to civilian life back on Earth, it was clear that the experience of traveling through space for so long and actually stepping foot on another celestial body, the Moon, was life-altering. I assume it may have been a bit similar to PTSD, returning from such an all-consuming experience to 'normal' everyday life would probably be tougher for some than for others. And coping with those changes would be quite the challenge for their spouses.
1. What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?
I believe it is rather obvious that in the U.S. in the '60's as part of a HUGE governmental program, these wives' experiences were directly linked to and virtually controlled by NASA. If their husbands were to be successful in their careers, they would have to play their own roles!
...an astronaut's wife did not disclose her fears to anyone. They all knew fear was contagious. Even though most of the ladies harbored the exact same dark thoughts, they couldn't risk sharing them." (206)
The expectation was for the wives to accept anything and everything and keep on smilin'--to be Primly Stable as they nicknamed it themselves. As Jane Conrad stated:
I think we look like the Stepford Wives, don't you?...Because we all tried to be so calm and so cool and everything, but we were a far cry from Stepford Wives. (257)
I have been struck in this book as in the majority of those we've read thus far for Literary Wives, by the ability of these females to assert themselves in whatever way was possible given the limitations of their current-day society/culture and their plights within. These wives demonstrated an immense diversity, just as with any group of people, and yet, they learned to care for each other and cooperate to a great extent, regardless of all the challenges to overcome. Females are so resourceful and resilient!
2. In what way does this woman define "wife"--or in what way is she defined by "wife"?
These wives' husbands' careers defined their lives for them to such a great degree, particularly for those original Seven. They had to be successful in their roles for their husbands to have the opportunities to succeed in their careers, plain and simple. There was no women's lib or feminism allowed! At least not in the public eye.
"Okay, how's fifty-fifty?"
Susan wasn't sure if that made her more or less worried.
Worrying and waiting was what these women did, and they seemed to form very supportive friendships among themselves to endure their roles as "astronaut wives." ...Marilyn Lovell, with tears in her eyes, spoke for many of the wives when she said, "Those were the best years of my life." (264)
One of the wives stated of the astronauts:
"They were like rock stars. It was sickening." All the same, it was absolutely thrilling.
..."Who could ever compete with the Moon? I was lucky if I could come in second." (257)
Have you read this one yet? It was informative on many different levels. Though it's main subject is the spouses of the astronauts, it also provides some political backdrop of the time, as well as other aspects of society. Let us know your thoughts! :)