It took all my restraint to not type ‘Anna Delvey’ into Google as I was reading My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams because, although I was vaguely aware of the outcome of Williams’s ‘Sex and the City meets Catch Me if You Can’ story, I couldn’t recall the detail. And it is the detail that makes this memoir so engrossing.
In 2017, Williams – mid-twenties; a photo editor for Vanity Fair; living in a studio apartment in New York – meets Anna Delvey, a ‘German heiress’ who was in New York to work on “…the Anna Delvey Foundation, a visual-arts center she was developing that would house gallery space, restaurants, members-only lounges, and more.”
Anna was charismatic, ambitious and generous. Once Williams was part of her entourage, Anna picked up the tab for regular dinners at Le Coucou, infrared sauna sessions, drinks at the 11 Howard Library bar, and regular workout sessions with celebrity personal trainer, Kacy Duke.
When it came to material possessions, Anna was pared down, but when it came to indulgent experiences, she couldn’t get enough… And since Anna liked to have company, she pulled me into the deeper water with her, where I knew my way around (thanks to my job and past experiences with wealthy college friends) but was not capable of floating on my own. Anna knew this. Yet, wanting what she wanted, she set our course and kept me on her raft. And I let her.
But when Anna proposed an all-expenses-paid trip to Marrakech at the five-star La Mamounia hotel, and Williams, through an extraordinary set of circumstances was forced to ‘temporarily’ foot the US$62,000 bill on her credit cards, their friendship was compromised. Back in Manhattan, the repayment never materialized and in the months that followed, Williams made countless attempts to be reimbursed, all of which Anna dodged, ignored or responded to with increasingly elaborate lies. And while Anna’s enigmatic behaviour ‘…had once been fun and intriguing, it was now alarming.’
It is easy to read these stories and think that you would never be fooled by a person like Anna but, as Williams points out, she was a trusting (not naïve) person, who believed that ‘…it’s a mark of good fortune not to have developed the type of cynicism that comes with so-called street smarts.’
Williams openly states that she considered Anna a friend and enjoyed her spontaneity and confidence –
Why is exclusivity appealing? We all want to be included. We crave validation, from friends and from strangers.
Additionally, few of Williams’s other friends questioned Anna’s authenticity. However, when things began to go wrong Williams came to the realisation that where she had ‘…felt connection, Anna felt control.’
My Friend Anna is light, easy reading – if ‘beach-memoir’ is a sub-genre, this book is it. I enjoyed Williams’s honesty (she openly admits to feeling flattered by Anna’s attention and approval) but you also get a good sense of her confusion, anguish and desperation when things take a turn.
There are so many glorious New York moments in this book – ‘The décor had a Provence-does-Meatpacking feel, even though we were technically in SoHo…’ – which was certainly part of its appeal for me. Equally, Williams’s job at Vanity Fair makes for some impressive name-dropping (photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz, anyone?).
Apparently Netflix and HBO are in race to make this story into a television series, and I’m sure whoever does it, it will be brilliant viewing. There’s also a podcast (haven’t listened yet but it’s on the list).
3.5/5 A page-turning memoir.