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Review: 'Melania and Me' captures a fraying friendship and first lady's rivalry with Ivanka
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Review: 'Melania and Me' captures a fraying friendship and first lady's rivalry with Ivanka

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"Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady" by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff; Gallery Books (352 pages, $28)

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"Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady" kicks off with a famous phrase uttered by Donald Trump in the now-infamous "Access Hollywood" tape that was leaked a few months prior to the 2016 presidential election, dressed up in italics to emphasize its vulgarity.

Featuring those five words so prominently off the top serves as a succinct thesis statement for author Stephanie Winston Wolkoff's tell-all about her time as a confidant of and adviser to first lady Melania Trump. If you're down to rehash four years of Trump-related scandals from an ex-FLOTUS ally's viewpoint, this is the book for you.

Then again, that might be giving "Melania and Me" a bit too much credit for potential juiciness. Winston Wolkoff does offer some salacious details about life in the first family's inner circle, but nothing all that surprising to anyone who's been paying attention.

For those unfamiliar with Winston Wolkoff, she's an entertainment executive who cut her teeth working at Vogue for Anna Wintour, planning and producing huge events like the Met Gala and New York Fashion Week. That experience would eventually be put to use helping to organize President Trump's inauguration in 2017, essentially as a favor to Melania Trump.

She met the future first lady in 2003, when Melania Trump was a model most known for dating a billionaire real estate mogul. The two quickly struck up a friendship, complementing each other "like Lucy and Ethel, or Snooki and JWoww," as the author describes it.

Melania Trump has been an enigma since her husband became a major political player. She always seems to be in the background, smiling as Donald Trump makes speeches or occasionally giving a short talk at an event without taking any press questions. It turns out, according to Winston Wolkoff, that this perception is completely by design - both by the West Wing and Melania Trump herself.

Melania Trump has always been focused on keeping her private life just that, Winston Wolkoff says. No one is entitled to details of her family's lives, no matter how miniscule. She is "a woman who does what she wants and what suits her owns interests."

None of that qualifies as a revelation, but Winston Wolkoff does go into painstaking detail on how disorganized the first lady's office was from the second the Trumps arrived in the White House. She claims that she and Melania Trump believed that Ivanka Trump - Donald Trump's daughter who they both cattily refer to as "Princess" - was actively trying to undermine her stepmother and accrue more authority than the first lady.

The most interesting tidbit in the whole book might be the suggestion that Ivanka was behind the speech Melania Trump read at the 2016 Republican National Convention that borrowed from one Michelle Obama gave in 2008. The first lady vs. first daughter narrative is the most compelling part of the book. Unfortunately, a frustrating number of pages are devoted to the minutiae of planning a presidential inauguration and staffing a first lady's team.

It's clear why Winston Wolkoff chose to go into such painstaking detail on the inauguration because questions arose about its finances, and her ill-defined position on the first lady's staff eventually led to her ouster. But endless complaints about stonewalled budget requests and difficulties obtaining government credentials don't make for a page-turner.

Winston Wolkoff ultimately concludes that getting involved with the Trumps was a colossal mistake that cost her "emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, socially, professionally." And though she says she kept giving Melania Trump the benefit of the doubt, she finally realizes that "at her core, she's one of them" - a Trump through and through.

Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at www.post-gazette.com

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