“The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story”
By Lily Koppel
c. 2013, Grand Central Publishing
You’d pack your bags in a heartbeat. Yep, if they ever come up with a commuter bus to outer space, you’ll be first in line for tickets. And why not? You’ve grown up with the space race, men on the moon, footage of weightless astronauts, and fascinating experiments.
You’d go to the moon in a minute, but it’s not possible yet. And in the new book “The Astronaut Wives Club” by Lily Koppel, you’ll see that, for the spouses of spacemen, it wasn’t possible 50 years ago, either.
Out of 110 test pilots that spring of 1959, just seven made the cut.
The seven were chosen, not for their brains (although they were highly intelligent men) but for their stature: NASA required that Mercury astronauts be healthy, strong and shorter than 5’8,” or they wouldn’t fit into the space capsules.
The seven women married to the Mercury astronauts weren’t chosen, yet they were immersed in the Mercury program as if they’d been hired, too. NASA strongly suggested that the women get up at 5 a.m. to cook their men a hearty breakfast, and insisted that spacemen endure no stress before all space activities. No family bickering, no checkbook woes, kid problems, or accusations of cheating.
And there was a lot of the latter: “Cape Cookies” were everywhere, and though some of the astronauts were happily married (NASA insisted on stable family lives) and could avoid temptation, the indiscretions of others were blatant and ignored.
This was a time when Communism was feared, Russia had beaten the U.S. into orbit, and the Civil Rights Movement was years in the future. It was a time when divorce was taboo, “girls” deferred to their husbands, and (except in secretarial roles) women were largely barred from the world of business which is perhaps why NASA didn’t think to give Annie Glenn, Betty Grissom, Louise Shepard, Rene Carpenter, Marge Slayton, Jo Schirra, or Trudy Cooper much direction in dealing with press or pressure.
And so, the Astrowives pulled together with an unspoken promise to one another: “If you need us, call and we’ll come.”
Like most Americans in July, 1969, your eyes were glued to the TV. You remember that first moonwalk well but what about the people outside the spacesuits?
“The Astronaut Wives Club” tells you, but not via some run-of-the-mill, techno-filled NASA story. No, author Lily Koppel tells the tale from a razor-sharp point-of-view: She writes of innocence, hope, and triumph through the eyes of seven women who space-raced behind the scenes.
There’s humor and heartache inside this book, but what makes it so vivid is that we’re transported back in time. We’re made to remember the Eisenhower years, Camelot and women’s lib, space food, and wanting to be astronauts all of which allows for a better feel for what the Astrowives endured.
This book is a Baby-Boomer’s dream and is perfect for anyone who’s imagined moving among the stars. If that’s you, then you’ll want to read “The Astronaut Wives Club” because this book will send you over the moon.
“The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell”
By William Klaber
c. 2013, Greenleaf Book Group Press
$24.95/higher in Canada
In your lifetime, you’ve wished upon many stars. You’ve spotted a twinkle in the night sky and hoped for love or fulfillment of a dream. You’ve wished for good grades, better money, the return of a loved one. And sometimes, you’ve wished for the impossible.
But was the wish fulfilled, or was the star just another ball of gas? For a woman in the 1850s, it was the latter: in “The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell” by William Klaber, Lucy futilely wished she was a man.
On the morning when she cut her hair, donned her brother’s clothes, and slipped from her parents’ house before daybreak, Lucy Slater left more than a wretched life behind.
She also left her daughter, Helen, which tore her heart. Still, the decision to flee wasn’t difficult.
Three years prior, Lucy’s husband abandoned his family, leaving them with nothing and forcing them to live with Lucy’s parents. Since she’d married against parental approval, there was only hostility in their home a situation made worse because they knew that Lucy was most comfortable in the woods, wearing her little brother’s clothes. That was unseemly for a lady in upstate New York, 1855.
Men had it so much better. They could live without care, wearing breeches and shirts. They could hold jobs that paid a decent days’ wage. She envied them. So Lucy Slater boarded a train headed east, and became Joseph Lobdell.
Fearing that he’d be unmasked, Joseph kept to himself until he could grab a barge to Honesdale, Pennsylvania. There, he played the violin for patrons in a downtown inn, and he started a dancing school for the young ladies of the growing city.
Honesdale was also where Joseph fell in love with a 17-year-old named Lydia.
But Honesdale wasn’t far enough from New York, and someone recognized Joseph for who he really was. He’d heard about opportunities in Minnesota so, running for his life, he left Pennsylvania for the Midwest, and a life he’d been denied
Sounds like a good adventure yarn, doesn’t it? It is and it’s even more enjoyable, once you know that “The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell” is based on real life.
In his after-notes, author William Klaber says that he learned about Lucy Lobdell Slater from a writer-friend who wanted the story told. Knowing that the dearth of facts could hinder a biography, Klaber decided to fill in the blanks with fiction.
This book is none the lesser for it.
In giving Lucy the voice of narrator, Klaber lends a sure vulnerability that surprisingly lingers, and wistfulness that adds a note of sadness. He also gives her a feisty single-mindedness and keen awareness that what she was doing wasn’t just scandalous but was downright criminal. Readers who remember that important point will love this book as much as I did.
Perfect for historians, feminists, and anybody who enjoys historical fiction, this novel is a definite winner. If that’s you, then look for it because “The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell” gets five stars.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.