My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams

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A tantalisingly juicy book, ‘My Friend Anna’ is an interesting insight into the life of a supposedly wealthy New York socialite, and the people she brings along for the ride. The story ends in scandal and with serious ramifications, and Williams does her best to convey just how much emotional turmoil the ordeal gave her, offering a heartfelt viewpoint away from the ‘gossip-column-style’ narrative that many readers will be familiar with. However, while the book is unarguably intriguing in its subject matters, it falls flat when it comes developing the story beyond the original long-read article.

A fake German heiress swoops into the New York socialite scene with bucket loads of cash and a spending appetite to match, looking for people to share her time with – this is the captivating beginning of an exciting, scandalous and outrageous story, one in which Williams is unfortunately one of the main characters. Williams assumes that the reader already knows the outcome of her now famous tale, and to be honest if we’re picking up the book, we probably do. She gives hints to the deceit and extent of her friend Anna’s lies in the introduction, so that even if we are still unaware, we already know that some epic lie awaits.

The beginning of the book is slow to build, but I appreciate what Williams is trying to do here. We get insights into her life before the arrival of Anna, aiming to highlight that she comes from relatively humble beginnings, doesn’t really see herself as someone ‘cool’ enough to hang with this exclusive crowd, and still marvels at the insane spending habits of some of her New York peers. For her, this lavish side of New York is still largely unchartered territory, so the arrival of the whirlwind that is Anna Delvey is an intriguing look into this world. For the reader, the arrival signifies a change in pace for the book – it becomes more exciting, faster, and we finally feel we’ve arrived at the moment we’ve been waiting for.

The chapters when Rachel and Anna are galivanting around New York, dining at fancy restaurants, trying absurd exercise classes and beauty regimes, are the most captivating. While we may scoff at and criticise the lives of the uber-rich, it’s undeniable that we still have a curious fascination with their supposedly care-free lives. With this in mind, we understand and empathise with Williams, as she too gets sucked into this alternate universe. What would we do, if in the same position, if we’re being truly honest with ourselves?

Throughout the book, Williams does bring our attention back to the fact that she was/is criticised for being too naive and trusting when in hindsight, it is plain to see that something was not right. For me, I viewed this book as a kind of justification for her actions, her way of explaining why she gave so many chances to this new friend, and the decisions that led her to be in the awful situation by the end. In this respect, Williams’ approach largely paid off. In fact, it was somewhat refreshing to read how much the scam affected her, instead of all the space given to con-artist Anna. Williams is the victim here, and her voice should be the one that shouts the loudest.

That being said, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing from the book. Although I do welcome any ‘true-crime’ book where more time is centred around the victim, Williams wrote a whole book about ‘her friend Anna’, but we got very little about what kind of person Anna was. It’s true that this could be deliberate – did anyone really know who ‘Anna Delvey’ was? – however, especially when the deceit was uncovered, I feel I wanted to know more about her background, and a deeper analysis of what Williams believed possessed her to do such a thing. We do receive some analysis of this, which I’m grateful for, although the ending where everything is revealed feels rushed and anti-climactic.

Williams’ strength and stamina does appear in the final sections of the book though, and especially when we compare it with this cautious and unassuming character we’re first presented with, this has a huge impact to the story. The pace picks up again when Williams begins her fight for justice. The reader rallies alongside her as she attempts to get answers, and Williams carefully details just how complex and difficult her case is, making it almost impossible for many to take her seriously and offer any legal help. Thankfully, justice is served in the end, and (although the feeling isn’t hugely impactful) we do get a certain sense of relief. I was shocked at just how complicated it was for Anna to even reach that point, and glad that in the last part of the book, she used great initiative in capturing all of her correspondence with Anna, saving them all for future references and evidently the book. Her methodology added another investigative layer to the book, which was much-needed at this point as the outcomes had become obvious and uninteresting.

Unfortunately, ‘My Friend Anna’ doesn’t go too far beyond the original Vanity Fair article (also mentioned in the book) and while there are some added bits of information, it does little to aid the overall topic matter – who was Anna Delvey and why did she do this? Any extra sections are not enough to warrant the lengthier read.

However, it is undoubtedly a fascinating story, not just because of the mysterious Anna and the trusting Rachel, but because it showcases a dark aspect of humanity and the lengths people will go to just to ‘fit in’ and feel loved. It’s got all the makings of a perfect, fictional crime-novel. The real ‘juicy’ element is that this tale happens to be true.

My Friend Anna is published by Quercus and is available here.

Rachel DeLoache Williams

Rachel DeLoache Williams was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, and is a graduate of Kenyon College. In 2010, she moved to New York City and landed her dream job in the photo department of Vanity Fair, where she helped produce photo shoots, including those for the annual Hollywood and New Establishment issues, and worked with the magazine’s leading photographers and iconic subjects. My Friend Anna is her first book.

Reviewed by Mariah Feria

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