I found myself facing a relatively short road trip, about 8 hours for the round trip, with only 10-hour plus audiobooks sitting around my house waiting to be listened to. So I loaded up all of the OverDrive collections I could get my hands on, searched for books I could listen to on my phone that were able to be downloaded immediately, and paged through all the results until I found something of the appropriate length and interest level. This was that book.
I have a mild interest in space and NASA and astronauts and the like, enough to spend a day at Kennedy Space Center with my rather more space-excited friends and enough to listen to and love Packing for Mars (though, really, it’s Mary Roach, I’m not not going to listen to that). But I moreso have an interest in the behind-the-scenes, stories-not-told aspect of basically everything, and this book definitely promised that. It was sold to me as a book about the wives of the first astronauts, the people who were stuck at home taking care of kids and houses while their husbands faced death in space, and I was super sold on that premise.
Unfortunately, this book fails in the execution. The biggest problem, I think, is that the book starts out as a collective biography of the wives of the Mercury Seven, which is already seven people to talk about for a whole book, and then keeps expanding to include the wives of the “New Nine” and “The Fourteen” and “The Original Nineteen” and it is so many wives, you guys. So many wives. So whereas at the beginning of the book you get actual information about Annie Glenn and Rene Carpenter and Betty Grissom and their histories as people and how they interacted with their husbands and the media and the fame in general, by a few chapters in the book is just about how “the wives” this and “the wives” that and it’s not so much about the wives any more as it is about the space program in general.
Which is the other big problem, I think — after letting us get to know those first wives and their rather interesting histories (some wives were also military or pilots or just generally career women who gave up their work for their husbands’), the book just kind of becomes a timeline of the space program and how Gus and John and Alan and whoever were off doing this launch or that launch and their wives were so worried or their wives were totally not worried or their wives were mad at them even though their very lives were in danger and it starts to become more about Dudes in Space than wives at home living their own lives.
I wanted to like this book, and I really did like this book in its focused, biography-of-some-cool-ladies beginning, but once it lost that focus I was only listening to it because I had nothing else ready to listen to. However, this will apparently be available as a TV show this summer, and I feel like that will be a much better medium for this story than the book was. I guess we’ll find out soon!
Recommendation: For those interested in the space program and the many, many people surrounding it.