Bennett Driscoll has what you might call a “Take It Easy” problem. You remember that 1972 song from the Eagles: “I’ve got seven women on my mind / Four that want to own me / Two that want to stone me / One says she’s a friend of mine . . .”
In Super Host, the first novel from Kate Russo (daughter of Richard Russo), Bennett has been taking it a little bit too easy. Once a painter of note, he has slid mindlessly into an indeterminate middle age, where he has been abandoned, in rather quick fashion, by critical notoriety, wealth, his gallery, his wife and any real sense of purpose. While he ponders how to extricate himself from several of those situations, the wealth bit demands his immediate attention, so he converts his estate into a short-term rental while he occupies the detached building that serves as a studio and occasional living quarters.
At this point, the only notable achievement left to Bennett is his status as a Super Host, which he jealously guards, even as it brings him into contact—sometimes too-close contact—with his renters, all of whom turn out to be women. In the hands of an author with darker leanings, this could have morphed into a creep show or even Psycho-esque territory, but Russo plays on the lighter side as the women in Bennett’s life (some intentionally, some otherwise) peel back his psyche, spurring him closer to some degree of self-awareness.
The book lumbers out of the station a bit leisurely at first, but like a locomotive, it gains steam until Bennett’s life seems like it might derail. Can he regain his painting mojo, and even if he does, will it matter to the critics? And what will he do when his ex-wife, his tenant and his girlfriend all converge in competition for his affection?
Ultimately, Bennett discovers that his great new artistic challenge is one he hadn’t remotely anticipated: a return to the unfinished canvas that is his own self. And the critics he must attempt to win over aren’t the ones who write for newspapers or magazines; they are the people he holds most dear.