In Beck Dorey-Stein’s memoir of her years as a White House stenographer during the Obama administration, she invokes the best and the messiest aspects of American government at a time when we need it most. Where the Trump administration emanates the kind of idiosyncratic, dumb brutality of the faux-pressed, Dorey-Stein’s Obama administration radiates hope—a soft halo whose glow she uses to both bask in the moments democracy gets things right and eviscerate the failures of an imperfect system. Where the Trump White House reads as The Scottish Play, equal parts snake pit and crab bucket, Dorey-Stein’s White House is socially complex yet soapy, the imminent end of Obama’s term—and the ad hoc universe which spun around him—sand through the hour glass.
Despite the grueling hours, the hierarchy, the frustration, the shameless power climbing of D.C. and the shameful actions of politicians more indebted to cash than constituents, Dorey-Stein reveals the joy which can be found serving at the pleasure of a President one believes in. In a glass cutter voice equal parts Sorkin and Weisberger, Dorey-Stein writes the perfect anodyne to the cruelty of the politics of the moment, unafraid of reveling in the love affairs and cliques which come caked in sweat and the enamel of ground teeth.
She tells us of people, an incredibly difficult and rare thing to achieve in the realm of political writing; the effect is something like being pulled aside as a freshman by the captain of the lacrosse team—the one the players love, not fear—and feeling the effervescent inspiration. No matter how despicable the current White House—in sheer bureaucratic ineptitude alone we are looking at dysfunction on a historical level, and that’s without the dog whistling, racism, grift and nepotism taken into account—From the Corner of the Oval affirms that it won’t always be like this.
Through the sharp, dedicated, decidedly human Dorey-Stein and her colleagues, we’re granted a crucial reminder that not every person in politics is an avaricious ghoul or a cobra-hearted cipher. There are still people out there, and some of them just might care about the people out here.
B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayist and book/art critic based in Chicago. A former book critic for The Myrtle Beach Sun News, he is a contributing reporter to A Beautiful Perspective and has been seen in The Atlantic, Hazlitt, Jezebel, Chicago, Sports Illustrated, VICE Sports, Creators, Sports on Earth and New American Paintings, among numerous other publications. You can find him on Twitter or at his website.