Note: Contains spoilers for Inventing Anna (2022) and My Friend Anna (2019, 2022)
If you’ve watched Inventing Anna (2022) on Netflix, you know who Rachel is–the young woman who starts off optimistic and well-meaning, excited about her new friendship with Anna Delvey (and the luxe life that comes with her), and ends up anxious, then frantic, then an embittered nervous wreck, on the verge of losing her job at Vanity Fair. As opposed to the steely and poised Anna, whose tears and passion are carefully curated, Rachel is smiling, and soft, and eager. Or at least that’s how Inventing Anna invents Rachel.
Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson observe in Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives (2nd ed. 2010) that ‘[Identities] are constructed. They are in language. They are discursive. They are not essential—born, inherited, or natural—though much in social organization leads us to regard identity as given and fixed. … Thus autobiographical narrators come to consciousness of who they are, of what identifications and differences they are assigned, or what identities they might adopt through the discourses that surround them’ (39). How, then, does Rachel invent Rachel? And why does Rachel invent Rachel? These questions don’t really have clear or simple answers, at least on one read, at least for me, but a dominant theme of plucky ‘normal’ American girl vs. glamorous foreign trickster emerges to shape much of the conflict–and it’s not entirely clear how conscious of this the author is.
This memoir was first published in 2019, between Jessica Pressler’s (Vivian in the series) article “Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It: How an Aspiring It Girl Tricked New York’s Party People” in The Cut (2018) and Inventing Anna; the edition I have has an afterword written after Delvey’s exit from prison and subsequent publicity tour. It can be read as an assertion of agency, an empowering narrative of self-actualisation–or a cashing in on a story that captured the public imagination during the ‘summer of scam.’ It can be read as a cautionary tale about social media and the dangers of mistaking the surface for the substance (if indeed there is ever a substance), or material gifts for true friendship (if indeed there is such a thing as truth). It’s an ode to toxic friendships–and a hymn to self-reliance. It’s a narrative of healing; it maps a journey from victim to hero. DeLoache Williams’ subtitle The True Story of a Fake Heiress adopts what Smith and Watson call ‘authority of expression’–this is the real story, the truth, the tea.
Indeed, while Inventing Anna has the subject always acutely aware of being watched, best face always angled towards the ever-present gaze, or camera, DeLoache Williams offers seemingly unguarded moments:
One evening, I caught her giving herself a pep talk in the mirror next to the concierge desk in the Library [hotel bar]. “I’m so pretty and so rich,” she bragged. We’d had a few glasses of wine, but even still, my jaw dropped. Who says that? “Are you talking to yourself?” I asked. “Did you just say I’m so pretty and so rich?” She spun toward me with a vulnerable smile, and then, noting my dismay, doubled over with laughter.’ (72)
But ultimately, and inevitably, we find out more about Rachel than we do about her friend Anna, and Rachel’s bemusement at Delvey’s confidence is perhaps key here. Rachel is middle-class where Anna is purportedly elite; close to her family where Anna is estranged; holds down a normal (if glossy) job and relationship while Anna spends her time courting financiers and sourcing luxury experiences for herself and her friends–from infrared saunas to expensive bars to glamorous sun-soaked holidays in Marrakech.
The climactic Marrakech scenes, where DeLoache Williams suddenly finds herself in a foreign country on the hook for hotel and other fees amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, are genuinely suspenseful, and the months of attempting to recoup the money amid increasingly Delvey’s increasingly Byzantine excuses about wire transfers and unreliable European banks and trust fund representatives take on a nightmarish, claustrophobic quality. Eventually, Rachel and another of Anna’s marks, the personal trainer/life coach Kacy, compare notes:
...So she stopped communicating with you all together now? Kacy asked.
No. We text daily…Every day it’s another excuse or delay.
Same here! Kacy said.
Yep. She’s very good at stalling. Masterfully manipulative.
Masterfully!!!! Kacy replied. That’s why I was thinking…con artist?
I sighed. Yeah…I don’t know. The fact that she’s back in NYC and still in our lives without having disappeared. I don’t think it’s that simple. (163)
It’s easy to think of Tom Ripley and other classic noir confidence tricksters, or femme fatales, mistresses of the shifting persona, when reading My Friend Anna, but what also comes to mind is the scene in Little Women where Meg is enticed by her rich friend into buying a silk dress she doesn’t need, and tells her husband ‘I’m so tired of being poor.’ We’re surrounded by images of aspirational lifestyles and constantly told to buy our best selves–it’s particularly hard to resist when this feed is coming from the people closest to us.
Overall, this is an interesting book–I think it certainly has something to say about friendship and desire and late capitalism, I guess. It’s fairly well written, and it does offer a sense of ‘behind the scenes’ of the Anna Delvey story. It’s a ‘beach read biography’–it’s breezy, with a clear trajectory and juicy detail. But I suspect that if most people had the choice, they’d choose to buy Anna Delvey’s memoir instead.