cover image Four by Four

Four by Four

Sara Mesa, trans. from the Spanish by Katie Whittemore. Open Letter, $15.95 trade paper (237p) ISBN 978-1-948830-14-0

Mesa’s uneven gothic English-language debut follows the students and administrators of an elite Spanish school through a series of escalating cruelties. At Wybrany College, 13-year-old Ignacio is frequently bullied. After Héctor, a new kid, is taunted with homophobic slurs, the two boys become allies and the tides shift for Ignacio. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Celia finds a protector in the Advisor, who offers to allow Celia to visit her mother in the impoverished and drug-ridden neighborhood Celia left behind, an apparently innocent gesture that belies his devious intentions. As the second part of the novel reveals, Wybrany’s administrators provide anything but safe haven. Mesa shifts from Celia and Héctor to journal entries from Isidro Bedragare, a substitute teacher and failed writer who conned his way into the job and learns about the administrators’ sinister behavior and a series of missing students and faculty. Isidro documents the horrors he witnesses at Wybrany in his journal, the least of which being his discovery of a decapitated cat. While Mesa’s ambitious two-part structure falters with uneven pacing, sparse details, and a jarring switch to Isidro’s point of view, Isidro eventually discovers the school’s secrets, and Mesa briefly shines. In a recent glut of neo-gothic tales, this one feels extraneous. Agent: Indent Literary Agency. (May)