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The Private Lives of Pippa Lee: A Novel Hardcover – August 5, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this promising first novel, screenwriter/director Miller (The Ballad of Jack and Rose) 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. Despite a few moments of overwrought melodrama, the story's held together by Miller's sincere and intelligent protagonist. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

In her first novel, Miller, a film director and the wife of Daniel Day-Lewis, employs effective imagery to explore the shifting nature of identity. Fifty-year-old Pippa Lee feels she is too young to be living in a retirement community. But her 80-year-old husband, Herb, a famous publisher, thinks it’s time to simplify their lives. They trade their urban Manhattan neighborhood for a suburban community of identical homes and manicured lawns. But all is not well as Pippa begins to walk, cook, and even drive in her sleep. She soon reveals the price she paid to secure her successful lifestyle. She was raised by a mother addicted to Dexedrine and rebelled with a wild adolescence. Rootless and adrift in her twenties, she fell in with a group of artists who constantly changed partners and drugs. It was when she met Herb that she first realized her need for security, one she fulfilled by stealing him away from his wife. Miller brings a simmering intelligence and verbal flair to this deft exploration of the courage required to own your own life. --Joanne Wilkinson

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 239 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374237425
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374237424
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,465,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rebecca Miller is a writer and filmmaker whose films include "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee", "The Ballad of Jack and Rose", "Personal Velocity", and "Angela". You can find her blog, and more about her books and films at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Veronica on September 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and devoured it in as few sittings as possible. It is the kind of book that, for me, has too many extraordinary plot twists and character traits to seem completely realistic, but the writing was so good that I was prepared to suspend belief and just go with the story.

The novel begins with Pippa Lee at 50 years old, married to a man 30 years her senior, and moving into a retirement complex. The first part of the book describes her current life, focussing on her relationship with her husband and two adult children. The second part goes back to Pippa's childhood and charts her wild and self-destructive youth up until she meets her husband and changes her life. The final portion of the book returns to the present day, where all is not right between Pippa and her family, and things have reached breaking point.

I found Pippa to be an interesting if not always likeable character. She seemed to drift through life, easily influenced by others, with little conviction about what she wanted or with any kind of moral compass. Despite this, I liked Pippa. I felt she was very much a product of her childhood and was just a confused, lonely person at heart. I was also interested by a lot of the secondary characters and enjoyed how the author managed to perfectly sum up their personalities in just a few piercing descriptive sentences or lines of dialogue.

Perhaps the one false note was the ending. Part of me feels that the loose ends were all tied up too neatly, within just a few pages, and perhaps the book could have gone on a bit longer to make the ending more realistic. Furthermore, there was also something that happened near the end of the book that just didn't ring true.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Nina on February 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Perhaps I've read too many other novels about women from the classics Hester Prynne and Madame Bovary to Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Tyler and Sue Miller's modern women to be overly impressed by the short shrift Miller gives her Pippa.

So, we all change as we mature. Daughter of a dysfunctional mother, she becomes a rebellious teenager. Surprise. Not enough supervision by her aunt, she is corrupted by a predatory older woman. Surprise surprise. When she falls into the New York drug crowd, one might wonder why the influence of her Episcopalian pastor father and dislike for her dexedrine-addicted mother don't have any influence on that choice.

But all goes well after she falls in love with a married man 30-yrs. her senior and has twins and hunkers down as a wife and mother for the next 30 yrs. Why? That question is not quite answered. Except that I guess she was pretty normal all along except for the angst of young adulthood. This is all told in flashback.

Now open the novel with Pippa and 80 yr. old husband Herb deciding to move into a retirement community that doesn't quite agree with Pippa. Except that isn't explained too well either, considering Herb's exceptional desire to stay young (with gusto). And except, as Pippa says, that Marigold Village, the retirement community, is like a fairy tale, where you enter, and something happens to you like children meeting a witch. Well, something bad does happen to her, but, again (surprise) like a fairy tale all ends well because, after all, Pippa was just pretty normal to begin with anyway. I guess.

The last sentence is one of the few bits of insight we have into Pippa's human condition, and it's doesn't amount to much for a novel that had the potential to be more. But it allows her to neatly walk out of the dark woods of Marigold Village with a pithy little platitude.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By groovymamma on October 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for many reasons. It offered insight to a woman who seems a little lost in her own life, being married to a successful man many years her senior and whose children are grown and gone. She fills her day doing mundane chores but seems to enjoy the monotony more for what it shelters her from than for what it is. We learn over the course of the book that Pippa was raised by a drug addicted mother and ran away from home because of that only to herself succumb to a downward spiral of drugs and aimlessness. It wasn't until she met the much married Herb, a man 30 years her senior, that she stops taking drugs and becomes a stable wife and mother.
The raw intelligence of the prose is what moved me. Miller is hugely talented and some lines literally left me reeling. One is when Pippa's daughter, Grace, at a very young age said to her mother "I own you as far as the eye can see." Such statements cause Pippa to remove herself from her daughter's clutches a little, an act of tough love or selfishness? There are many questions like this that this book surreptitiously poses that made it a thought provoking delight.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Beatrix Potter on December 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'm not sure what convinced me to read this book, especially after seeing a three star cumulative review on Amazon. Whatever it was, I am really glad I did. I don't typically read a lot of contemporary fiction--more of a classics or non-fiction reader. The prose was readable and engaging. I found myself up until the wee hours finishing it up because I was interested to know what Pippa would do (or had done) next. While I doubt there are many people who can relate to the specifics of the protagonist's life and travails, if you look beyond the literal, the story becomes very relatable. It was interesting to see the several parallels the various characteres lives took and it really drove home the point that we often become or do the things we most despise in others. Thought provoking.
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