Peeking into Pippa

Author: Rebecca Miller

All too often we think we know people because we’ve been in their house or know what they do for a living or what their children are like.  But the truth is, especially as people get older, that those outward things mean very little.  When we Private Lives of Pippa Lee Covermeet people as adults they have lived whole lives about which we know absolutely nothing.  The Private Lives of Pippa Lee vividly demonstrates that fact while it looks at life in stages, from childhood to old age.

Pippa Lee is the 50-year-old wife of a very successful 80-year-old literary agent.  The couple has two grown children and has just made the transition from apartments and summer houses in New York to a retirement community.  Pippa is definitely among the youngest residents, the move being initiated by her husband Herb.  Still healthy and strong, he was growing tired of the rat race and decided it was time to retire.  At first glance the couple, though many years apart in age, is devoted, happy and making the transition to their new home.  Inside that home, however, Pippa has started acting strangely as she adapts to her new routine.  We look inside her past for clues to her predicament.

The book is told in three sections, the first and third told in the third person and the second in first person by Pippa.  We meet Pippa, her children, husband, friends in the first section with a special emphasis on her adult daughter.  The second section is where Pippa delves into her past, from childhood to the present, revealing secrets and a history filled to the brim with an entirely different sort of life than that she has shared for thirty years with Herb.  We get to look past the outside and really come to know this woman, and are reminded not to covet the lives of others, for the outer shell never tells the real story.

The best thing about The Private Lives of Pippa Lee isn’t the character of Pippa, though she is immensely interesting.  The best thing is how author Rebecca Miller manages to use this story to talk about the stages of life – childhood, early adulthood, parenthood, middle age and aging – through all of her characters, examining how each stage contributes to the choices made in all the others.  Not only within an individual life, but through generations.  She takes the character of Pippa and makes her into a microcosm of good and bad decisions and their consequences.  The characters don’t feel quite real with their exaggerated drama, but they to tap into the connections we make during each stage of our lives.

My only complaints about the book are that in places I found it too vague in the details of what precisely was happening to Pippa and why and that there isn’t a well developed character that I truly, thoroughly liked.  The former I found truly irritating – like the author had an idea of where she wanted to take us, but not enough to give us the full story.  The latter is no doubt by design – the only truly well developed character is Pippa and she’s too complicated to be 100% likable.  Otherwise the writing is fluid and well paced and the book is a fast, interesting read.  3 ½ stars and a moderate recommendation for The Private Lives of Pippa Lee for anyone looking for a good story about a complicated life.

— S. Millinocket

Sue Millinocket
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