Curtis Sittenfeld


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Eligible Summary

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Eligible is a 2016 novel by American author Curtis Sittenfeld. An installment in publisher HarperCollins’s “Austen Project,” which invites contemporary novelists to reimagine the works of the great eighteenth-century British writer, Eligible is a retelling of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Sittenfeld has transplanted the story to modern-day Cincinnati: Liz Bennet is a magazine writer based in New York and Fitzwilliam Darcy a handsome, forty-something neurosurgeon.

The story opens as Liz, thirty-eight, and her sister Jane, a thirty-nine-year-old yoga teacher, return to their childhood home in Cincinnati, where their father is recovering from a heart attack. They find things in disarray. No one is caring for their father, despite the fact that sisters Mary, Kitty, and Lydia all live at home, none of them contributing much. Mary is a graduate student, while the others spend all their time at CrossFit: “Another source of irritation,” Liz complains, “was that her sisters looked fantastic.”

Meanwhile, their mother is still obsessed with marrying her daughters to eligible men. Liz and Jane find this obsession all the more irksome because their love lives are not going as they wish. For years, Liz has been stuck in an on-again-off-again relationship with Jasper Wick, who uses her for sex. “I love you,” he tells her, “in my life.” Meanwhile, Jane, desperate to be a mother, has given up on finding a man to start a family with and has applied for a sperm donor.

Mrs. Bennet is a huge fan of the reality television show Eligible (not unlike The Bachelor), and she is very excited to learn that a former contestant has moved to the neighborhood. Chip Bingley, an ER doctor, was recently Eligible’s bachelor: he left the show without finding love, so he is still “eligible.” Hints gather that Chip’s ambitious sister Caroline may have bullied him into agreeing to the show.

Mrs. Bennet organizes a barbecue, with the goal of introducing Chip to her daughters. During the event, Liz overhears a conversation between Chip and his friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, a stuck-up neurosurgeon from San Francisco. Darcy (“Fitzwilliam” is too much of a mouthful for most) pours scorn on provincial Cincinnati. Liz tells everyone what Darcy has said before confronting him directly with his remarks. Meanwhile, Chip asks Jane on a date.

Liz discovers that Mr. Bennet has no medical insurance: his treatment has been paid for by remortgaging their (already mortgaged) home. They are in danger of losing the house. Liz arranges for her sisters to move out: Mary and Kitty rent an apartment while Lydia moves in with her boyfriend, Ham.

Meanwhile, Liz keeps bumping into Darcy while they are running. They trade flirtatious insults and eventually begin having explosive “hate sex.”

Her family’s crisis averted, Liz decides to return to New York. The day she is due to leave, Darcy tells her that he loves her, but he does it a high-handed and insulting way: “You’re not beautiful, and you’re not nearly as funny as you think you are,” he informs her. “You’re a gossip fiend who tries to pass off your nosiness as anthropological interest in the human condition.” Liz’s response is to call him a “jackass.”

Jane’s relationship with Chip has been progressing well, but when Jane discovers that she is pregnant (with her donated sperm), Chip decides to slow their relationship down. He flies to LA to film a reunion series of Eligible.

While visiting her friend Charlotte in San Francisco, Liz shows up at the Darcy family home, Pemberley. She finds Darcy at home, and he invites Liz and Charlotte to eat dinner with his family. Liz takes a liking to Darcy’s younger sister, Georgie, and finds herself warming to him.

An urgent call summons Liz back to Cincinnati. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are upset that Lydia’s boyfriend, Ham, is transgender. Insulted by their reaction, Lydia and Ham have eloped.

Georgie sends Liz a text message that makes Liz think that Darcy is dating Chip’s sister Caroline.

Chip realizes that he wants to be with Jane and her baby. He proposes to her. However, he is contracted into Eligible, so unless they wait a year, their wedding will have to be filmed for TV. Jane agrees to the filming and the whole family flies out to LA.

At the wedding, Liz learns that her parents have reconciled with Lydia and Ham. She also learns that Darcy brought this about, by speaking to Liz’s parents about Ham’s decision to change sex.

During the live recording, Caroline accuses Liz of trying to steal Darcy from her. Liz switches off her microphone and Darcy’s and asks Darcy to marry her. He says yes.

The wedding episode is broadcast and Liz is presented as a hard-partying lush. The novel gives the last word to Liz’s sister Mary, who thinks how silly her sisters are for pursuing men instead of careers and hobbies.

Eligible is the fourth novel in the “Austen Project,” and the best-received by critics, hailed as a “hilarious and endearing family drama” (Kirkus Reviews).