Books Reviews

From the Corner of the Oval

Beck Dorey-Stein was a stenographer in the White House for five years during President Obama’s tenure. She had a front-row view of many events of great political significance. This book is her memoir of those times. 
Dorey-Stein is initially suspicious and disdainful of politicians and residents of DC, whom she called ‘DC creatures’. She is a temporary teacher at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, where the children of many presidents, such as Teddy Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton, had studied. When Dorey-Stein joins the school, President Obama’s daughters were pupils there. 
When her job at the school is over, she decides to continue in DC because she falls in love with a young political speechwriter. She starts working five part-time jobs, from waitressing to tutoring. She applies via Craigslist for a stenographer’s job and gets it. 
It turns out to be a job at the White House, where she has to travel with Obama on his domestic and international trips. She is to ensure that transcripts of the president’s remarks are well-edited and accurate.
Although she struggles during her initial days at the Oval Office, she quickly becomes efficient and inconspicuous, which is what her job demands. She even directly interacts with the president of the United States (POTUS), especially at the gym. 
She also meets many interesting people, including one of her heroes David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker. He advises her to keep notes as she has an interesting perspective to offer. Since her ambition is to be a writer, she is already doing so.
Dorey-Stein describes her experiences at the job as “like college but on steroids”- late nights, junk food, sleeping pills, alcohol and when it was time to work, intense activity. She even falls in love with a more senior aide, Jason, and has an on-off affair, despite both having partners. While her relationship with her boyfriend ends, Jason decides to marry his long-term girlfriend right after Donald Trump wins the election.
After Obama leaves the White House, she stays on because hers is not a political appointment. However, she soon realizes she can’t continue working there, along with Trump and his staff.
The book is an odd mix about the workings of the White House during Obama’s tenure and Dorey-Stein’s turbulent love life. She has great admiration for Obama and gives enough insight into his character. It is interesting because of her experiences in the Oval Office. 
Her approach to her relationships seemed juvenile and had me cringing. This is by no means a political memoir. It is more of a coming-of-age story that would sound right in any mainstream office scenario, with a brilliant CEO as the central figure, instead of President Obama. However, she writes well, with a dash of quirky wit and self-deprecating humor.

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