This book flinches like a starling, like the gun that shook in my hand.
I first stumbled across the indie publisher Plays Inverse at Whale Prom in Tampa, where I purchased Exit, Pursued by Dalton Day and instantly became a fan. Since then, I’ve read their entire catalog. The work Tyler Crumrine produces through Plays Inverse is some of the most innovative, unorthodox, and simply brilliant work out there—so, in my mind, Brandi George’s Faun had a lot to live up to.
Faun is ostensibly a three-act play centering around the character of Lily in her pastoral hometown of Ovid, Michigan—a town that really exists, right in the center of Michigan’s palm. In Faun, Ovid acts as place, but it also acts as origin, as inspiration, as image. The poet, after whom the town is named, wrote Metamorphoses, an epic poem that is famous for exploring myriad Greek myths in slipstream forms across its fifteen books. In turn, George’s book wanders sure-footedly across different voices and different forms as it examines the myths that make up the protagonist, a young woman beginning to realize both the violence and the wonder of this world.
In some ways, like Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Faun is less a play and more a long poem; it has a strange but steady cadence that moves words around as though dancing. Faun is very musical. On the cover, Barbara Hamby calls it “operatic,” and that word rings true. There is a plurality of voice that grows as George combines melody from both form and lyric. For the reader, there is a ringing beauty to each stanza, almost every word, and that reverberation melds dialogue into a polyphony of mouths simultaneously wrapping around each syllable. A chorus of sublime shape and movement.
The play’s first act—Lily & the Blue-Hearted Bear—begins in Ovid, Michigan, in 1994, in the aftermath of Lily’s rape. Lily’s body takes on many incarnations: from Doe Lily to Evergreen Lily to Fire Lily and more. For the majority of the first act, she is River Lily, like Ophelia among the reeds. Each transformation acts like Kübler-Ross’s seven stages of grief, though George sees grief as more nuanced and, thus, Lily moves through more than just seven different skins. The first act also establishes its roots in nature, and the rest of the book is set almost completely out-of-doors, where man is most vulnerable. George plays with this danger in a subversive way. While the flora and fauna act as her chorus, narrating her thoughts and actions to the reader, Lily’s forms become different parts of nature, as well, reinforcing the idea that she is her own narrator, her own chorus. Readers are able to see agency latent in Lily long before she is able to see it herself. These adept machinations strengthen the underlying idea that Lily, though delicate and having sustained great violence, has a natural, regenerative power to define, and re-define, her own life.
Have a red ever
Needles have a red
Head of need
Less spine-hollow backlit
Birds dawn births threes
The eversinging red ned of the sun sun sun sun sun
Sun sun sun sun billions of
Act Two is set in 1894 and in 1794 and, at one point, in “no time.” So Lily has existed for centuries in some form, as has the violence committed against her, as has the world and all its confusion. As has these stories. And all of these things will, presumably, continue to exist until there is no time.
You, shred with questions:
Is there a god? Shred.
What is time? Shred.
Why violence? Shred.
Why did grandfather slip
a dollar in your pocket? Rags.
You would have died
if not for Christmas lights. Shred.
An old woman in the city
who never saw a star.
Rags of light.
The changes in Lily become more rapid here. At one point, Lily becomes a forest burning and, on the next page, she is the fire. Act Two is the crux, when Lily, all of the Lilys, chooses between conquered and conqueror in the aftermath of her trauma and labors through both options. The fire that burns, no matter who is behind it, changes the entire world around it. We see the ash and the death that it leaves in its wake. George adeptly shows us that the destruction of the forest becomes the bedrock for future generations to build upon. Regeneration, as it were. Act Two, then, presents the mythological origins of all Lilys, where love and all its accompanying sadnesses exist, where we birth our own hunters, and still, somehow, survive.
In the play’s final act, readers are placed back in the forest in Michigan, in 1994. Lily gives birth to the play’s titular faun and, through this act, she is finally herself: simply Lily. Her mother and father, the Optician and Archer respectively, find her and declare the horned faun a devil. There is fast-paced panic in these pages, where her parents become finally cognizant of their daughter’s transformation, from Lily to mother. The faun is something tangible from her rape, something Lily’s mother can see and something at which her father can aim. The physical manifestation of a child is when they’re able to recognize change. It is a bittersweet irony that Lily (who wears many natural bodies throughout the play and, in some ways, embodies Fauna) births the faun, as it is a creature traditionally thought of as fun and harmlessly fatuous. Her faun is the product of a great violence, at once apart and a part of her rape. For the Optician and the Archer, this child is not silly or magical; it is the corporeal manifestation their daughter’s shame. The relationship between grandparents and faun is further complicated by the fact that the newborn is critical of the world into which it was born. He sees conformity and blind obedience and hypocrisy. The townspeople hunt him down almost immediately; the sight of his horns herald their guns. Ultimately, Lily is met with violence, again, and must decide how to carry on in spite of the cyclical promise of its return.
This is, in my opinion, one of the best books written in the past year. It is challenging and insightful. It builds off a longstanding tradition and still manages to create something truly new. This book is a play insofar as it has dialogue, it is a poem insofar as it is not prose, and it is an epic insofar as it narrates the story of a hero who is alive with equal parts weakness and courage. More accurately, perhaps, this book is its own new form of myth-making: a collage of histories, of voices and song, where George strips, repurposes, and places ontologies of the past into new shapes, and, thus, creates a new way of interpreting them.
The first lines in Metamorphoses read: “In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas / corpora;” and are generally translated into English as: “I intend to speak of forms changed into new entities.” But corpora, in simplest terms, means body. Faun is the story of a body, a young girl’s body, and how the person she is grows to understand the complexities of identity; how identity can be an integral part of having a body as well as something that exists in the mind—in passions or thoughts or compulsions, that a person can make ‘real’ through the mechanism of their body. In Faun, George speaks in new forms, on the page and through her protagonist, and ultimately creates new bodies, new ways of reading a body, completely metamorphosed.
Float Faun’s bones through the flooded corn field and
rain hard. Float vases full of dead flowers, sympathy cards, ashes, and
rain hard. Float pine’s waterlogged roots, rooftops,
into the great sea of Lake Michigan where things sink
and unspool and are nibbled by Asian carp.
Forge new shores.