When I finished Michelle Obama's Becoming, I wasn't ready to leave the Obama White House. Her stories made me so nostalgic for those eight years that I wanted to do whatever I could to stay there in my mind. I decided the next book I would read would be Beck Dorey-Stein's memoir, From the Corner of the Oval, sharing her experiences as a stenographer in the Obama administration.
I had read a quick review of the book in a magazine (Entertainment Weekly? PEOPLE?), but I didn't know much beyond the one line description. I was curious to see if the book would have a behind-the-scenes feel, a strong political charge, or a more observational tone. It turns out that the entire story is told through the lens of one thing: her affair with a member of the Secret Service.
Let me back it up for a second. Beck Dorey-Stein never meant to put down roots in Washington D.C. and she certainly never met to work for President Obama. She writes, "I'd moved to D.C. in the spring of 2011, by myself, for a semester-long tutoring job at Sidwell Friends School." Quick sidebar: this is the school attended by Chelsea Clinton, and Malia and Sasha Obama. "I would live in the nation's capital for three months, and not a moment longer, because who wants to live in D.C.? I had enough friends to make a three-month stint exciting, but enough self-respect to know that D.C. and I would never really be into each other. D.C. is the girl who never swears and always wears a full face of makeup; the guy who makes a weekend 'brunch rezzie' for him and his ten closest bros and thinks tipping 15 percent is totally solid. I moved to the city with two suitcases and my eyes wide open - I'd use D.C. to build my resume, and D.C. would take all my money for rent and bland $11 sandwiches."
So, as you can see, Beck is a stereotypical millennial - overly confident, entitled, and certain she already knows everything. In fact, if that sort of personality grates on you, you should absolutely not read this book, you will go insane.
When her tutoring gig ends, Beck applies to a job listing on Craiglist for a stenographer position. After securing an interview, she winds up blowing off the in-person meeting because she's stuck at a Lululemon staff training session longer than she expected to be. Despite that first strike, the hiring manager gives her a second chance (why, I will never know) and just like that - poof! - she's one of the president's stenographers.
Within a few short weeks, Beck is traveling all of the country on Air Force One. She records and then transcribes all of the president's speeches and press interviews. After proving she can handle the grind on the road, she's granted permission to staff international trips too - Israel, Jordan, Myanmar, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and more. She becomes so embedded in the team that she even travels to Hawaii and Martha's Vineyard each year as the Obamas enjoy their two annual vacations (in case the president does any official business during these family trips).
Now, I know all of this sounds fascinating, and it would be, if so much of each experience wasn't colored by the status of her tryst at the time. Beck becomes involved with Jason, a very senior member of Obama's team. It's worth noting that they are both in relationships at the time that this all begins.
Jason makes Beck feel special in a way she never really has before. She describes, "The morning after the kiss, I wake up in shock. Jason likes me. I can't believe it. As I brush my teeth, I look at myself in the mirror. I'm not the kind of girl boys have crushes on. I'm the girl who crushes until she's crushed. My entire life I've fallen into that tragic category of humans whose heart has not only been routinely broken, but pureed. Hammered. Hacksawed. T-boned. Punted. Wall-balled. Kebabed. Clotheslined. Shanked. Flambeed. I'm the funny one, the wing girl, Sporty Spice when all the guys want Posh."
After their first night together, Beck becomes obsessed with Jason and finding ways for them to be together again. They sneak off on press trips, they text late at night, all while still having their respective significant others at home. As I read through chapter after chapter, I continued to be stunned by how many of her memories of each trip are about Jason, and not sitting steps away from world leaders, visiting incredible monuments and historical sites, or even just basking in the glow of Barack and Michelle. There's always the undercurrent of, "Is Jason talking to that cute reporter? Why isn't he answering my texts? Will our hotel rooms be on the same floor?" I wanted to reach into the book and shake her!
From the Corner of the Oval is more a tale of a woman scorned, than the diary of a White House stenographer. I was hoping for more inside scoop on the Obamas, the staff, the rituals and traditions, and less reckless, lust-fueled, 20-something, decision making.