Four by Four examines freedom vs. subjugation until the question itself, hauntingly, proves to be based on a fallacy. Wybrany College, a boarding school where wealthy parents send their teenagers to avoid urban violence, has dark undercurrents of threat. In Part One Celia, a poor scholarship student, wishes she were back in the city where she actually feels safer. Ignacio, a bullied boy, accepts his nonstop abuse as his due. Part Two switches gears as a substitute teacher arrives at Wybrany and unpacks the menace that’s present. Part Three is the shortest and most devastating, coalescing disparate evidence from the previous sections. As one professor says, "One escapes the external evils, certainly, but monsters are generated inside these walls." This is a linguistically precise, stylistically spare and emotionally devastating look at the corrosive effect of abuse and power imbalance.
— From Cindy's Recs
"In Four by Four, Mesa's sentences are clear as glass, but when you look through you will be terrified by what you see."--Laura van den Berg, author of The Third Hotel
Set entirely at Wybrany College--a school where the wealthy keep their kids safe from the chaos erupting in the cities--Four by Four is a novel of insinuation and gossip, in which the truth about Wybrany's "program" is always palpable, but never explicit. The mysteries populating the novel open with the disappearance of one of the "special," scholarship students. As the first part unfolds, it becomes clear that all is not well in Wybrany, and that something more sordid lurks beneath the surface.
In the second part--a diary written by an imposter who has infiltrated the school as a substitute teacher--the eerie sense of what's happening in this space removed from society, becomes even more acute and sinister.
An exploration of the relationship between the powerful and powerless--and the repetition of these patterns--Mesa's "sophisticated nightmare" calls to mind great works of gothic literature (think Shirley Jackson) and social thrillers to create a unique, unsettling view of freedom and how a fear of the outside world can create monsters.