If you’d asked me before I met Anna, I wouldn’t have thought I lacked this type of common sense. I was skeptical of strangers, suspicious of new people. But I didn’t see Anna coming. She slipped through my filters. You read about those characters in books, you see them in movies, but you don’t expect to meet one in real life. You don’t think it’s going to happen to you.
If you haven’t yet had the experience, I can tell you: it is deeply unsettling to learn that someone you care about, a person you think you know well, is an illusion.
I’ve made no secret of my penchant for con artist stories, and the case of fake German heiress Anna Delvey, who conned New York’s glitterati until her unpaid hotel bills did her in in 2017, is an entertaining and surprising one. Delvey (real name: Anna Sorokin, of Russia) scammed hundreds of thousands of dollars from banks through what basically amounted to check kiting — depositing checks and withdrawing money before they cleared, somehow, I’m confused by that part — then spending it extravagantly living in Manhattan luxury hotels, buying Apple gadgets, expensive meals, personal training, drinking constantly, and chartering a $35,000 private jet to gatecrash the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders’ meeting while occasionally tricking friends and hangers-on to spot her when her credit cards mysteriously wouldn’t work.
It’s a doozy of a story. Last year a friend of Anna’s, Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel DeLoache Williams, wrote an article telling her side, including that Delvey stuck her with around $62,000 in unpaid flight and hotel bills after a trip to Marrakech. This book expands on that story and Williams’ recollection of their friendship.
Like in The Woman Who Wasn’t There, there’s scant knowledge about the conner themselves. Anna allegedly spent her days in business meetings with lawyers and bankers trying to create a Soho House-like members-only arts club and foundation. So Williams fills in by laying out, in excruciating detail, what it felt like being conned. Her voice comes across as still so raw and reeling that it’s hard not to feel those emotions alongside her.
She attended Anna’s pricey private workout sessions, got tipsy in infrared saunas (the worst idea), trailed along as Anna moved between luxury hotels (what kind of Eloise fantasy was that, anyway?), got pedicures with wine delivered to the salon, and planned the trip to Morocco with personal trainer and videographer in tow to document it for Anna’s would-be foundation. It is all so weird and it actually just sounds mostly terrible.
Most of the book’s latter half revolves around Williams’s attempts to get reimbursement from Anna for the Marrakech vacation, the expenses of which had to be charged to her personal and corporate credit cards after Anna’s were declined. It includes the ins and outs of messages begging for and promising payment, the precise details and complications spun by Anna of bank and wire transfers and so on. Her anxiety is palpable, but it doesn’t make for interesting reading. She also fails to capture something that I think is critical in understanding this story and how Sorokin pulled off her con, and that’s the weird world of New York money and power. It’s a hard one to explain or depict, but no genuine attempt was made.
The world was charmed when she was around—the normal rules didn’t seem to apply. Her lifestyle was full of convenience, and its easy materialism was seductive.
There’s also not a lot about what their friendship was like. It sounds mostly founded on being drinking, out-and-about buddies, and they didn’t have heart-to-hearts. Williams describes Anna’s quirks, like that she’s brash and sometimes rude, but she and others seem to write everything off as side effects of being rich.
The writing flows well, but there are some narrative oddities that I think come from trying to describe too much in detail. Like noting that she wasn’t hungry on an evening out with Anna because they’d had pizza in the office, apparently forgetting that she’d just described having dinner a few pages before. These kind of discrepancies always bother me in nonfiction even though they’re small, and made it feel like this book might’ve been rushed.
She does capture something helpful about the trauma of being conned by someone close to you, allowing her vulnerability to show, which is valuable since people can be quick to judge the conned.
I feel bad saying this, since Williams was a victim and suffered enormous stress before her financial nightmare courtesy of Anna ended, not to mention the feelings of betrayal and anxiety that will linger and affect trust and other relationships, but this doesn’t feel like the best window into this story. Although her information was ultimately helpful for the prosecution of the case, and she assisted in the sting that finally got Anna arrested, there’s just not a whole lot of insight here, except for how it all felt to Williams. Which is fair enough. This story is far from over — Shonda Rhimes is producing a Netflix project based on the investigative journalism of this piece by Jessica Pressler, which was my introduction to this whole story, and I suspect that kind of reporting appeals to me more.
It’s not what the marketing promises — Sex in the City meets Catch Me If You Can– but it’s entertaining enough, and as Williams points out, almost everyone has had one of these con artist types enter our lives at some point. It helps to understand someone else’s experience, even if it feels train-wrecky every step of the way.
My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress
by Rachel DeLoache Williams
published July 23, 2019 by Gallery Books