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From the Corner of the Oval: A Memoir

Review

From the Corner of the Oval: A Memoir

Beck Dorey-Stein has had some great good fortune in her life --- some of it self-made, some of it totally serendipitous. She also has had some setbacks and disappointments --- some self-made, others unwillingly thrust upon her. Her first book, FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL, is part memoir, part coming-of-age tale and immensely readable. For the legions within the Barack Obama fan club, it will be rewarding to see his presidency from the sidelines, front lines and exercise rooms of many hotels when they were on the road.

Dorey-Stein changes names and characteristics of the coterie with whom she traveled and worked, and also alters specific moments and events. However, her dislike and distrust of some colleagues over the course of her five years of work is resounding; she asks those who recognize themselves to retire to “that notoriously uncomfortable bed” described by Joan Didion. Just as evenly and more importantly, her admiration for the many who helped her along the way and paid attention to the rarely noticed position of recording the President’s tenure is huge.

"...part memoir, part coming-of-age tale and immensely readable.... Beck Dorey-Stein has a self-effacing, funny tone throughout her years as the White House stenographer. She learns a lot about Washington, D.C. and the intricacies of telling stories."

The segments that work best are when her experience and insight retell a known story. The horrifying death of James Foley by ISIL in August 2014 shocked the world; in his remarks to our country, President Obama reminds us, “ISIL has no place in the twenty-first century.” The power and anger of his words affect the room, and the silence that follows is unprecedented. His fury has shocked the cameramen; the reporters ask no questions.

But then the President goes golfing. As a way of explanation for this seemingly thoughtless afternoon, Dorey-Stein suggests that the golf course alone provided a solitary escape for the President. Her experience with him assures readers that his deep respect for the tragedy remained, and these moments alone were essential.

The possibilities for success seem endless in the rarefied world of Washington, D.C. during the Obama years. However, it is good to keep in mind that Dorey-Stein is a young woman --- sometimes in a relationship, sometimes not --- and her personal life is of great interest and concern. She learns and re-learns some hard lessons about trust and love and others’ expectations for her. One satisfaction is her growing awareness that she wants to write, that she can write, that she will become a writer. She trusts advice from Amelia: “Protect your sparkle.” She chose people and moments that deeply mattered to her, and FROM THE CORNER OF THE OVAL is the outcome.

Beck Dorey-Stein has a self-effacing, funny tone throughout her years as the White House stenographer. She learns a lot about Washington, D.C. and the intricacies of telling stories. Better yet, she is a part of them.

Reviewed by on July 12, 2018

From the Corner of the Oval: A Memoir
by Beck Dorey-Stein

  • Publication Date: July 10, 2018
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction, Politics
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
  • ISBN-10: 0525509127
  • ISBN-13: 9780525509127