Book review: “I’ll Take Your Questions Now”

You’re not using semaphore flags.

Nope, what you’re saying is clear and concise, spoken in plain language, enunciated, not rushed. You’re not mumbling, you’re communicating as precisely as possible but as in the new book “I’ll Take Your Questions Now” by Stephanie Grisham, it’s possible, even still, that the message is received all wrong.

It is probable today that most Americans have formed an opinion about what it might have been like to work at the Trump White House. In this slice of memoir, Grisham recounts her six years with the family, and we read her opinions – the first being that she believed serving in the White House was an honor, and the culmination of a dream. 

She’d started out on a low rung and moved her way up: press secretary, communications director for Mrs. Trump, communications director for the West Wing, Mrs. Trump’s Chief of Staff, and a Trump transition team member. In particular, she best-enjoyed her time on the first lady’s team, and she says she believed she was as close to Melania Trump as any other staffer might’ve been. Seemingly irreverently, she often refers to Mrs. Trump as “my girl.”

This, curiously enough, doesn’t feel disrespectful. It has a tone of lightheartedness and just a bit of fun-poking, as does much of the rest of Grisham’s story – and yet, readers may get the sense that Grisham wants to kid, at least at first, to soften what becomes growing frustration, absolute fear of the President’s “horrible” temper, and plain old exhaustion at a White House that didn’t run by the conventional rules she hoped to find.

To be sure, readers will find a bit of contradiction here and there, and occasional dissonance when Grisham praises something in one place and condemns in another. The tale can pivot, whip-quick. She bluntly says that this “is not a book… where you need to like me” but chances are you will, since there’s an unexpected and appealing sense of balance here; watching her love for the job wane from relishing to rancor and back is also likable for its candidness. Accounts of admiration gone flat, irritations with “chaos” (a word that appears frequently), infighting and a “cat fight,” sarcasm, and wit also complete this book.

The big surprise about “I’ll Take Your Questions Now” is that there are surprises left to tell about the Trump administration. Author Stephanie Grisham shares them in a chatty, informal, just-friends manner, as though you’re standing in a tavern somewhere together, office-gossiping. Beware, though: this is great fun, but given the spin-nature of Grisham’s former job, and the genuine and faux-flippancy in much of the rest of the story, jaded readers might notice that the familiarity is engineered.

At one point in this book, Grisham states that this “book is not meant to be political” but that’s disingenuous. By virtue of its subject, it inherently is, and if you’ve enjoyed one or two or ten books almost like it, “I’ll Take Your Questions Now” is the one to flag.

“I’ll Take Your Questions Now” by Stephanie Grisham

c.2021, Harper $28.99 / $35.99 Canada 333 pages