The Private Lives of Pippa Lee A Novel

Rebecca Miller




Trade Paperback

256 Pages


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Pippa Lee has a stable and successful adult life at age fifty, when her older husband, a retired publisher, decides they should move to a retirement community outside New York City. Pippa is suddenly deprived of the stimulation and distraction that had held everything in place. She begins losing track of her own mind; her foundations start to shudder, and gradually we learn the truth of the young life that led her finally to settle down in marriage—years of neglect and rebellion, wild transgressions and powerful defiance. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is the study of a brave, curious, multilayered woman—an acutely intelligent portrait of the many lives behind a single name.


Praise for The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

“When we first meet Pippa Lee in Rebecca Miller’s debut novel, she is a doting, loving wife, married to an accomplished book publisher who, at 80, is 30 years her senior. The book begins with the couple moving from Manhattan to a retirement community called Marigold Village. There Pippa is 'in terror of mowing over one of the aged people, dressed in pink and pistachio, their tanned faces collapsed, shriveled skin coming away from knees and elbows. As her adjustments become more complex, the novel takes us into her past to try to make sense of her current life. In high school she runs away from home to New York City, where she takes drugs and mingles with a host of cruel characters. Through it all she maintains an odd innocence. Ms. Miller—a painter, actress and film director who is married to the actor Daniel Day-Lewis and is the daughter of the playwright Arthur Miller—delves into the fraught relationships of families, particularly mothers and daughters, exploring the ways one woman deals with life’s surprises."—Julie Bloom, The New York Times

"Previously, Ms. Miller published Personal Velocity, three novellas about three young women seeking independence, then turned it into a Sundance hit with memorable performances from Parker Posey as a talented editor who longs to leave her affable husband and Kyra Sedgwick stomping sulkily in and out of a pickup truck (I turned off the DVD player before the Fairuza Balk segment). Pippa Lee persists with this theme. As it opens, the titular protagonist—part Swedish, part Armenian—is in her 50s and comfortably ensconced at a retirement community called Marigold Village with Herb, another talented editor, 30 years her senior. They have twins, a boy, Ben, and a girl, Grace. Pippa is something out of Chekhov, or Virginia Woolf, or Anne Tyler: 'a happy married, well-off woman, a dedicated mother, generous hostess, a woman who seemed to those who knew her to be among the most gracious, the kindest, the loveliest, the most unpretentious and most reassuring ladies they had ever met.' But all is not as it seems. Our heroine is having an identity crisis. She thinks with longing of the days when her children 'looked up at her with such certainty in their little faces, and called her Mama. They knew, so she knew.' But what the heck is she now? Her daughter is becoming (like Inge) a successful photographer; they’ve never really gotten along, and it’s getting worse. 'It was so lonely,' Pippa pithily notes, 'knowing things about her children that they no longer remembered.' Also, she’s sleepwalking. After a sturdy opener, the book quickly assumes a kind of Dagwood-sandwich structure, the meat of Pippa’s character piling up in haphazard slices. We learn in first-person flashback that her own mom, Suky, fed her a bottle well into adolescence and popped a lot of pills. Turning to drugs herself, young Pippa finds herself sleeping with a mustachioed male teacher; paddled and filmed by a lesbian pornographer in New York City (where anything can happen!); and returning to suburbia to confront super-freaky Suky in a particularly transgressive way. We learn how Pippa stole Herb from a dusky, busty beauty named Gigi. There will be, and is, blood. Much of the writing in this section is vivid, brave and experimental—short, choppy chapters with titles like 'Aha!' and 'Shackles.'"—Alexandra Jacobs, The New York Observer

"Miller stands on her own with Pippa Lee as she has with much of her previous work (including the novella collection Personal Velocity and its movie adaptation, and the wonderful film The Ballad of Jack and Rose which Miller also wrote and directed . . . One is reminded of T. S. Eliot's play The Cocktail Party, masquerading as drawing room comedy, to lure us into deeper waters."—Karen Brady, The Buffalo News  

"Miller is a luminous writer . . . Gazing into these multiple private Pippas is like opening a series of Russian dolls, each intricately wrought, self-contained, and self-revealing."—The Observer (London)

"Miller's astute, beautifully nuanced novel explores the unpredictable consequences of choosing to live a safe, but emotionally compromised life."—Daily Mail (UK)

"Like Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections without the bitterness, mixed with Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides minus the eccentricity, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing read."—The Sunday Telegraph (UK)

"Miller beautifully renders an American woman's grab and grab again at happiness."—The Believer

"Magnificent . . . Miller's depiction of her title character's tangled universe is so nuanced, so lovingly detailed, that it's impossible not to get drawn in."—Nylon

"The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is a beautifully layered and subtle novel of identity, with a wonderfully vivid sense of place and character. And it's hesitatingly wise in all sorts of ways, as well as being a deftly constructed page-turner."—Joseph O'Connor, author of Star of the Sea

"The Private Lives of Pippa Lee is about the bewildering ways we become who we are, the daily steps we take that end up being called 'a life.' It unfolds like a dream, like finding a door in your bedroom that you never noticed before, and slowly opening it, and coming upon a whole world on the other side, a world that you never knew existed. Rebecca Miller knows what all artists know—that it is impossible to reveal a life in its fullness—but in this wise and irreverent novel, the glimpses she allows us are stunning."—Nick Flynn, author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City

"Miller brings a simmering intelligence and verbal flair to this deft exploration of the courage required to own your own life."—Booklist

"In this promising first novel, screenwriter/director Miller probes the life of housewife Pippa Lee. Fifty-year-old Pippa lives a contented life with her older husband, Herb. However, everything changes when Herb announces that they are leaving Manhattan for a retirement community. Unsettled in her new home, Pippa begins sleepwalking through life—literally. She catches herself on a security camera cooking and eating while unconscious, then finds evidence that her somnambulist self has taken up smoking. In light of her erratic behavior, Pippa reconsiders the life she has built for herself and the example she is setting for her two grown children: raised by a pill-addicted mother, Pippa ran away from home at 17 and struggled with drugs, abusive relationships and her own feelings of guilt before looking for redemption in the family that she now worries is falling apart. Pippa's struggle to break the 'chain of misunderstandings and adjustments' that passes from parent to child is moving."—Publishers Weekly

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REBECCA MILLER was a painter and actress before turning her hand to writing and directing. She is the author of the short-story collection Personal Velocity, her feature film adaptation of which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and the writer-director of The Ballad of Jack and Rose.

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  • Rebecca Miller

  • Rebecca Miller was a painter and actress before turning her hand to writing and directing. She is the author of the short-story collection Personal Velocity, her feature film adaptation of which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and the writer-director of The Ballad of Jack and Rose.

  • Rebecca Miller Ronan Day-Lewis




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