Ella Kennedy is in a rut. Nearly 30, it seems she is on the verge of becoming both a perpetual graduate student and a continual failure at relationships. She has spent some three years at Columbia University ripping up outlines for thesis topics as her chosen field of Marxist scholarship becomes increasingly irrelevant.
Out of money and temporarily estranged from her obscenely wealthy father---America's king of discount merchandising---she is forced to take a job in Washington D.C. at the fledgling Institute of Thought. Her assignment: establish a web site and mail order catalogue to market Karl Marx paraphernalia. Her dilemma: she is computer illiterate, and is also distracted by the fact that she has finally found a thesis topic that she finds engaging. Against the advice of her advisor, she sets out to document the tragic life of Karl Marx's youngest daughter, Eleanor---a brilliant woman who self-destructed during the course of a bad relationship.
Meanwhile, her first day on the job Ella finds a lost ornithologist named Nigel Lark at the door. He is adorably disheveled and has a delicious accent and it is love at first sight. As their relationship quickly develops, however, it occurs to Ella that her own life is beginning to parallel the unfortunate path of her dissertation subject. For one thing, Nigel wears a wedding band on his left hand and he doesn't want to talk about it.