Pietros Maneos produced this beautiful little book based on his correspondence with me (Roman Payne) while I was in Paris, and he was in Italy. I was suffering a summertime illness that kept me in bed and too weak to work on my fifth novel, The Wanderess. He inspired me and helped shorten the sentence of my illness. Writers usually hate other writers—not that catty hatred of two fashion models trying out for the same cover photo; among writers it’s more an “annoyance” than a hatred. Writers tune themselves to the clock of their own egotistical creation, and it’s maddening to fight your clock when another one is ticking beside you.
The times I have seen writers become friends—Fitzgerald and Hemingway, for example—is when they share a similar style, belong to a similar “school” of thought, or movement, similar values, same goals. Their clocks tick at the same time. This is what drew me to enjoy my correspondence with Maneos. Like me, he is a “lover of the word,” a Romantic, a Classicist, heroic and Homeric, not of his time. Maneos is beyond his time. Like Keats, his reputation shall only grow stronger over the coming centuries.
In the fashion of the heroes of my novels, Maneos is devoted to living the aesthetic and poetic life. These are novels I wrote before I knew Maneos existed. While I was ill but consoled by the knowledge that my “poetic life” theory existed in practice, I asked Maneos if he was working on a novel, instead of just poetry. This question, he said, was what made the hypomanic spark surge in his brain compelling him to sit and write The Italian Pleasures of Gabriele Paterkallos; and he didn’t rise from his chair until it was complete. There is a strange beauty in books written this way—during a phase of hypomania—characters remain vivid, convincing, and all-too-real, from beginning to end. The reader feels the inspiration on a deep level.
I would later meet Maneos in person on the Island of Cyprus where he introduced me to the dangerous and lucrative profession of selling guns to the Greeks to be used to get the Turks off their island. We talked for hours about Homer, Greek myth, and both maintained that the “literature” being published today is weak and hopeless. We were going to change that. We were going to start a new school of literature, and only admit kindred souls like Mark Helprin and Doctor Praz.
After the drama of selling guns to the Greeks, Maneos ended up in a POW camp and the publication of his novel was put off until he could return to his native Florida this spring (2012). The Italian Pleasures of Gabriele Paterkallos is an epistolary book, all letters written to “Odysseus Pane” (When I publish my responses to his letters, they will come from “Odysseus ‘Payne’”). The reviews of his novella are deservedly great. The book is remarkably short (160 pages) and is reminiscent of The Sorrows of Young Werther, the letters of Lord Byron, and Laclos’ Liaisons dangereuses. But he uses such fine poetic devices that the 160 pages take on an epic scope. The poetic imagery is better than that of Goethe’s “Werther” as I have read it in translation only. He entertains us with the seductions of nymphs using a language more beautiful than Laclos’s masterpiece (which I have read in the original French). Maneos’ sentences are such a pleasure to read, one imagines he labored over them—although I know that the book was written effortlessly. It flows like a waterfall, guided only by nature, with the grace and simplicity of nature. This is the beauty of his genius. We, as readers, experience the inner-workings of the mind of a masterfully-created hero (Gabriele) who lived passionately and for the moment. Part autobiography, part parody, the hero is now a dashing Lord Byron, now a sensitive John Keats… now a dreamer, like Dostoevsky’s Idiot, and finally reminiscent of a nutcase straight from a Charles Dickens novel. Always the waterfall flows, changing colors only as the sun changes position in the sky. There is humor in the book, but beyond humor, the book speaks of that most important concept: Beauty.
Maneos is a poet with a beautiful cadence, and one would be happy reading his novella if only for the sensual phrases and sublime plays on word. But as a classical scholar and literary provocateur, his novella subtly attacks the modern wasteland of “literature.” You can tell that in his soul exists all the glory that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome. This is why I respect Maneos as a great writer and friend. His literary aims are my literary aims. There is no competition between us because we are building a new literary school together. With the firm belief that his current oeuvre contains greatness, that his future works will be even more glorious, I will risk my own literary career to defend his. That his words be read!
– Roman Payne, July 2012