A Strange Coincidence

Mrs. Moth’s house is based in part on houses I’ve seen in books, altered by my imagination. But it’s also based in part on the house I’m in now, which is out of sight of the road, set behind a circular drive. It’s in the middle of pastures, and out back there is a forest. To one side there is a garden with a fountain in it. And it’s gray, although gray wood rather than gray stone.

But that’s not what I’m writing about today. What I’m writing about is a strange coincidence. I was looking for a book to read, and in the upstairs library I found Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I thought, why not try it, find out what the fuss is about? I can always put it down after a couple of pages. But I liked it, actually. There were stylistic infelicities, I felt them sometimes as I read through the sentences, but I could overlook those. I liked the texture of the book, the level of detail, the Swedish place names that sounded like names from a fantasy novel. At least, I like those things so far. I’ve only read about a hundred pages. But on one of those pages, I read the following description of a man I’ve already decided is a villain, Hans-Erik Wennerström:

“He created Wennerströmgruppen, the Wennerström Group, when they set up offices in London and New York and the company started to get mentioned in the same articles as Beijer. He traded stocks and options and liked to make quick deals, and he emerged in the celebrity press as one of Sweden’s numerous billionaires with a city home on Strandsvägen, a fabulous summer villa on the island of Värmö, and an eighty-two-foot motor yacht that he bought from a bankrupt former tennis star. He was a bean counter, naturally, but the eighties was the decade of the bean counters and property speculators, and Wennerström had not made a significantly big splash. On the contrary, he had remained something of a man in the shadows among his peers. He lacked Jan Stenbeck’s flamboyance and did not spread himself all over the tabloids like Percy Barnevik.”

And at that point I thought, wait, what did I just read? Because I’ve met Jan Stenbeck. He’s a large man, with blond hair down to his collar, and when I met him, he was wearing what was obviously a very expensive watch. I was a corporate lawyer, an associate with a firm in Boston that handled the legal work for some of his American media companies. At that point, I was flying down to New York regularly, to spend the day at his headquarters doing any legal work that needed to be done. I only met him once, and I remember that he threw a pen in my general direction. (I think he was returning it to me, but either he was not very good at throwing or I was not very good at catching.)

It was a useful encounter, for a writer. If I ever need to write a Swedish billionaire, or indeed any sort of billionaire, I now have a sense of what one might be like. I have a sense of how one walks, how one takes up space in a room (which is quite different from how anyone else walks or takes up space). Remembering that incident reinforced something I’ve been feeling lately: how incredibly lucky I’ve been so far to have had a life that is sometimes tumultuous, but that brings me into constant contact with interesting things, with Swedish billionaires and the streets of Budapest and the pastures of Virginia horse country, so I can incorporate all those things in my writing. (There was a time in my life when, strangely, I kept seeing Lani Guinier on the subway. I still remember the way she leaned into the seat, looking out the window.)

I suppose in a way this post is a continuation of my previous one, about living fully and intensely. Except that there I was talking about deliberately experiencing for the purpose of writing, and here I’m talking about those odd coincidences, those experiences you never expect to have, but that just seem to happen. And despite the tumultuousness (which continues, and which sometimes I wish I could have less of), I’m grateful that my life seems to be particularly rich in those.

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