I’m Team “Anna.”
I refer not to Anna Delvey aka Sorokin, the faux heiress who got over on NYC’s upper crust and financial institutions, but to the award-winning actress, Julia Garner of Ozark fame, who portrays her on the nine-episode Shonda Rhimes/Netflix series “Inventing Anna.”
The show dropped on February 11, and I binged, mesmerized by Garner’s performance.
Even though the story is ripped from the headlines, it’s not a documentary, but a very absorbing and creative version based on the New York magazine story penned by Jessica Pressler.
For viewers to know this 411 is important, particularly to one person: Rachel DeLoache Williams, the Vanity Fair photo editor whom Delvey/Sorokin stuck with a $62,000 dollar hotel bill for which a jury found Anna not guilty of theft, so funds could not be recouped. (American Express eventually forgave the charges and Williams capitalized on what she considered her friends betrayal by writing a book.)
In “My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress” the author asserts that “Regret is an unproductive emotion,” and she has none. What Williams does seem to have is resentment, evinced by her article for Graydon Carter’s online subscription publication Airmail. She appears exasperated, even though Anna spent almost four years in prison and made restitution to those she was convicted of defrauding, then upon release was again put behind bars thanks to ICE and is awaiting a verdict on deportation back to Germany. You see, Anna’s still a media sensation.
After reading Pressler’s article, Williams’ account, and as the cherry on top, watching the Netflix depiction, I had concluded that there was enough blame to go around. This isn’t out of the ordinary, as victims of cons are often seen as volunteers.
I had a hard time feeling sorry for those Anna rooked. She knocked, introduced herself as an heiress, and the elite didn’t just open their collective golden door, they escorted her in because as Anna’s defense attorney says in the show’s last episode: “Everyone wanted to be in business with the German heiress.”
I was a bit more sympathetic when Anna messed with one of the, dare I say, common folk.
Upon learning about Rachel’s 62K incident my heart sank, but then it came to light that this young woman came out of the situation with more than she brought into it and writes about being hypnotized by the confident entrepreneur with the pan-European accent. “She invited me into her world of hotels, restaurants, and offbeat activities ... I aspired to be more like her.”
“She Called the Shots”
Here’s the thing about inequity in relationships: the person who pays all the time owns you, or as Williams admits, “Anna was paying, she called the shots.”
When the con unfolds and the mark is asked to pick up a tab or two because, in this case, Anna forgot her wallet or her card was declined, friends feel obliged to say OK because they’ve already been treated so many times. It’s not uncommon for people to not wait to be asked; they offer, as in, “I can pay and you can pay me back.” As a lawyer I know said: “It’s not a crime when you give somebody your money.”
It’s easy to shake your head, and wonder how people could be so stupid.
However, in Maria Konnikova’s “The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It...Every Time,” she states that falling prey to a grifter has nothing to do with intelligence. It’s about circumstances. Anyone at a low point or feeling unfulfilled is vulnerable to being taken in, and not just by high-profile hustlers but the everyday ones among us: “good Samaritans” who guilt us into making donations that charities never see, colleagues who down-talk an assignment prompting us to bow out only to have them claim it, lovers who wine and dine us out of savings, and those who generally pass themselves off as who they’re not a la pop culture’s favorite imposter, Don Draper.
To escape this unsettling reality, I’ll continue to watch shows like Inventing Anna, where chicanery plays as entertainment and I can pretend it could never happen to me.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novel “The Last Single Woman in New York City” from Heliotrope Books available May 17, 2022.