Rebecca Miller’s new novel The Private Lives of Pippa Lee opens with Herb and Pippa Lee moving into Marigold Village a rich retirement community. At 80 years old, Herb is tired and wants to be free of the stresses of a rich and wealthy life, so the house in Sag Harbor and the apartment in Gramercy Park are sold along with the rest of their possessions. Pippa,at 50 is the youngest person in the community. However outwardly perfect, serene and put together she seems to be she’s not quite ready for the retired life and her life soon begins to unravel. How she comes to this point takes the rest of the story to tell. I don’t dare give more away as it is quite a tale and a good part of the pleasure of reading this book is seeing how it unfolds.
Miller’s novel focuses on the quest for personal identity and how this quest is shaped, opposed and nourished by family and circumstances. Pippa’s story is that of an outsider struggling to find her self and consequently her place in the sun and surely, this is one of the most universal of themes. Granted, a few of Pippa’s experiences seem to be more out of the ordinary than what most of us know but then again, who knows what lies beneath the most seemingly ordinary person’s façade. Miller’s great strength is her intelligent and sensitive prose that carries even the most extraordinary episodes. At times, the story seemed to push the limits of credibility but her ability to ground her prose in carefully chosen details saves the tale. Some details stay with you even after you’ve turned the last page. I don’t know why I should have been surprised, she is her father’s daughter after all.Miller’s central concern for the search for identity becomes an even more poignant question when this search is coupled by an overwhelming desire, a need even, to belong. Pippa, as we all do, wants to belong. But at what point does the need for belonging overthrow your real self?