Desert Isle Keeper
With the recent fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, it was about time that I caught up on the Fly Me To The Moon series, which fictionalizes the astronauts, techs, and families of 1960s NASA into the imaginary American Space Department (or ASD). I’m completely thrilled that I did.
In book one, Star Dust, Commander Kit Campbell, test pilot and astronaut of the Perseid (read: Gemini) Six, has dreamed of the stars since he was a little boy. Now he’s the backup for the planned first Earth orbit, and that position – and future missions – depend on him keeping himself focused and out of trouble. Anne-Marie Smith, meanwhile, never meant to be a distraction. But Kit’s new next-door neighbor is a divorcée who left her husband, and an affair with a divorced mother of two isn’t exactly good for Kit’s concentration, or for the wholesome image the ASD wants to portray in Life Magazine. On Anne-Marie’s side, she has to ask if a serial-dating rocket jockey is the best man to bring into the lives of her kids, and if she’s ready for the subsuming of her own identity that would be inevitable if she married an astronaut.
While Anne-Marie and Kit both read as solid, realistic characters, neither quite reached the memorability or vividness I look for in a full A-grade read. My favorite scenes with Kit involved him with Anne-Marie’s kids. As an astronaut, he’s a hero to them, which makes him uncomfortable. The authors effectively show him transitioning from idol to human, family friend through ordinary gestures like tossing a football and giving Kit’s dog a bath.
I really enjoyed the setting of this book. I don’t remember the sixties personally, so I can’t speak as to precise authenticity, but I loved the little details which brought Houston to life: the womens’ wardrobes (pearls! Sheath dresses!), Anne-Marie’s job at a travel agency booking paper airplane tickets by phone, the menus and purchasing meat at a butcher’s instead of the supermarket, even Anne-Marie’s smoking. The ASD and the space program are also well-developed, and I liked that the authors thoroughly explore in their afterword where they deviated from history (all NASA astronauts were married, for instance).
Another nice touch in the setting is that while Kit is, quite evidently, a pioneer, the authors point out that in her own, personal way, Anne-Marie is also part of a frontier. She is part of a new wave of women who want more from their lives than to have their names literally disappear into their husband’s. At the same time, though, the authors don’t lose sight of the special circumstances of Navy wives turned astronaut’s wives, and when Anne-Marie becomes a bit too self-centered, the other wives set her straight.
The authors have also released a book club edition, which contains the first three stories in the Fly Me To The Moon series. I wholeheartedly recommend that you spend the extra $3 to get this book combined with a second full-length novel (Earth Bound, for which I resoundingly second our DIK A) and a charming novella (A Midnight Clear).