Belle Boggs is a witty, incisive writer, and The Gulf, her first novel, deftly satirizes everything from for-profit schools to the MFA industrial complex, American liberals and conservatives, and the hypocrisies of both sides ... These are fully realized characters, each with their own weaknesses and worries ... Scores of recent books, of every genre, have attempted to bridge the looming gulf in American culture and politics. It’s to Boggs’ credit that she doesn’t ... For all the satire, Boggs’ novel is also deeply felt, and moving. Perhaps its greatest strength is Boggs’ delicate, hard-won sympathy for her characters, and the sympathy they develop for one another.
With this scarily plausible setup, Boggs nails the launching point for her satire of for-profit education and the unholy links between manipulation, money, and writing. But The Gulf is more than just a witty parody: Boggs uses the Ranch as a lens through which to examine our fractured country, where the inability to allow for ambivalence keeps us separated by a gulf. In Boggs’s ultimately redemptive novel, it is language—poetry—that bridges that gulf ... Boggs convincingly makes the case that the writing workshop can breed empathy ... Boggs gives Marianne more meaty matters to work out than will-she-or-won’t-she get back together with Eric—her primary dilemma before the students arrive—and thus lends The Gulf real depth ... Boggs makes us question who is worth signaling, and how.
Each [character] is perfectly developed and flawed just enough to be lovable, if hapless. The book hums along with fitting momentum, so that when the storm hits, the reader is entirely invested in this well-meaning but ill-fated crew. Redemption is a risky ambition, especially with inspirational writing, but Boggs pulls it off with The Gulf's denouement. This is a novel of keen comedy, insight and empathy.