A review of

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

by Rebecca Miller

Central question: Who is Pippa Lee?
Format: 256 pp., hardcover; Size: 5 ½" x 8 ¼"; Price: $22.00; Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Editor: Jonathan Galassi; Print run: 30,000; Book design: Charlotte Strick; Typeface: New Caledonia; Author is married to: Daniel Day-Lewis; Author is daughter of: Arthur Miller; Point in the writing when the author was certain she would direct the film adaptation: second draft, second year; Representative sentence: “Lucy admired the symmetry of the book, the careful pacing, the slow but steady drip feed of information—not too much, not too little; she called it a ‘mystery of character.’”

Rebecca Miller is a writer first—first she writes the book, then she makes the movie. As a fiction-writer/director, she’s no moonlighter. She’s taken multiple turns in the desk and director’s chairs, and her process calls to mind the way Graham Greene approached his film treatment for The Third Man: “To me it is almost impossible to write a film play without first writing a story. Even a film depends on more than plot, on a certain measure of characterization, on mood and atmosphere; and these seem to me almost impossible to capture for the first time in the dull shorthand of a script.” So Greene wrote a novella. Done with that, he wrote the screenplay. Miller has done Greene one better: she’s directing the movie of her screenplay adapted from her debut novel.

Doting mother of two, devoted spouse, Pippa Lee has a complex past. She suffers from an “excess of empathy. Sometimes, she found the mystery of other people almost unbearable to contemplate: rooms within rooms inside each of them, an endless labyrinth of contradictory qualities, memories, desires, mirroring one another like an Escher drawing, baffling as a conundrum. Kinder to perceive people as they wished to be seen. After all, that’s what Pippa wanted for herself: to be accepted as she seemed.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Jay Baron Nicorvo

Jay Baron Nicorvo is on the editorial staff at Ploughshares and at PEN America, the literary magazine of the PEN American Center. He is at work on a novel.

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