From The Corner of The Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein is not an exposé about the political goings-on behind the scenes à la Bob Woodward or Michael Wolff. It’s chick lit, for better or worse, and I’m inclined to lean toward better. This memoir is about Dorey-Stein’s five years working at The White House during the Obama administration, including her love affairs prior to and during her time working there and her relationships with fellow employees. As a low-level staffer, she was not privy to confidential meetings with executive staff but she was privileged to accompany the President and his staff on overseas trips, local fund-raisers, family vacations in Hawaii and meetings with foreign leaders.
Dorey-Stein was an under-employed English teacher working several part-time jobs when she spotted an ad for a stenographer on Craig’s List. Desperate to work at something other than waiting tables, she applied for the job, then blew off the interview. Because part of her past experience included tutoring students at the prestigious Sidwell Friends School attended by Malia Obama, the interviewer followed up and Dorey-Stein was given a second chance to interview.
What she didn’t realize and had not been disclosed in the advertisement was that the job was as a stenographer at The White House, the big one on Pennsylvania Avenue. The job required her to be part of a team that attended every interview, press conference and public speaking event attended by President Barack Obama. His words were recorded and transcribed by stenographers like Dorey-Stein for release to various media sources as well as being kept for historical records. She does have opinions, however. After the Boston Marathon bombing attack, her comments, “You’d think these ‘red-blooded’ conservative congressmen who don’t want equal rights for gays or the right to choose for women would be embarrassed to have the NRA so publicly cupping their balls.” Good one!
When she was hired, Stein was advised to “keep her boyfriend” and avoid relationships with secret service agents or fellow employees. Naturally, a young woman in her twenties with raging hormones and a flair for being social found it difficult to adhere to that advice. She was soon romantically involved with a senior member of the executive staff, betraying her boyfriend and her principles. Her new lover, Jason was a chronic and well-known womanizer but she’s already too emotionally involved before she discovers the painful truth about his true colours. Their on-again, off-again affair pulls her under like a drug addiction with no upside other than infrequent good conversation and good sex.
Fans of The West Wing and HBO’s VEEP starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus will love this book. In fact, even if you’re not familiar with those television shows, I think you’ll love it. That’s why it’s a New York Times best-seller. While we learn nothing salacious about White House operations during her tenure, it’s a fascinating read nonetheless. Being a fly-on-the-wall observer at a low level, the author treats us to a rare view of life in the West Wing of The White House. We follow her steps through rooms, corridors and offices, journey along on trips within the United States and internationally aboard Airforce 1 and experience personal exchanges with POTUS through her eyes.
From The Corner of the Oval is a fun beach read about the love affairs and working relationships between Obama-era staffers. You won’t learn any dirty secrets or inside political skullduggery but you will enjoy the observations of an articulate young woman who was there. And her Epilogue is titled, Send in the Clowns. Pour yourself a glass of wine, put your feet up and escape. I’d rate it 7 out of 10.