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At the age of nineteen, saxophone prodigy Latif James-Pearson boards a bus to Manhattan to find his aging idol, the great Albert Van Horn. The centers of Latif’s universe soon become a Harlem boarding house, where he spends his days practicing intensely, and the downtown club where Van Horn's group performs and Latif hides in the shadows, listening. There, he begins a complex affair with an older white painter named Mona, and starts working for Say Brother, a charismatic drug dealer. But as Latif’s frustrations with his playing mount, and the demands of balancing artistry, hustling, and love push him toward crisis, he is forced to confront his music, his past, and himself. A virtuosic story told with lyrical intensity, Shackling Water heralds the arrival of an important new voice in American literature.
“A rushing torrent of swirling, coruscating language, jumpy with jazz-influenced rhythms and shimmering with tumbling shards of urban imagery.” –The Boston Globe
“[Mansbach is] a veritable multi-culti code-switching genius. . . . The novel forges ahead to a powerfully humble conclusion that testifies to the authentic impulses behind creation.” –The San Francisco Bay Guardian
“This might be the best fictional work about jazz since James Baldwin’s beautiful and soulful Sonny’s Blues.” –Library Journal
“Pulls you into passages so rhythmic that for the first few pages you want to stop the meaning from leaking through. You want only to say the words out loud, hear the syllables roll off your lips.” –Boston Magazine
“Mansbach displays a gift for fusing the improvised energy of streetspeak with that of spiraling jazz riffs.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Mansbach convincingly captures the rhythms and cadences of black language and the inner monologues that play out while artists are on stage. . . . The questions that [Shackling Water’s] authorship raises–does this white boy know what he’s talking about? —are forgotten.” –The Washington Post
“Mansbach plays with words like a rapper, themes like a jazz musician and rhythm like a hip hop dancer. Some of the most original and moving writing out there.” –Boston Herald
“Mansbach illuminates music's spiritual dimension and plumbs the sorrow and rage that is the legacy of every black artist. [A] bold, resonant, portrait of the artist as a young man. . . . Mansbach's eloquence and energy are unwavering and his music is divine.” –Booklist (starred)
“A literary debut of breathtaking splendor. Mansbach riffs like Coltrane, flows like Biggie Smalls, and heats the page with prose that might have spilled forth had Whitman learned the blues. . . . A true artistic gem.” –Michael Eric Dyson, author of Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur
“A stunningly beautiful, heart-aching debut . . . a brilliantly written, risk-taking novel that lands gracefully on its feet. . . . Shackling Water may be the finest novel written this year and half of the next one.” –African-American Literature Book Club
“Mansbach sparkles throughout. As auspicious a debut as Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist . . . even those who don't know a whole note from a grace note will revel in glorious song and history both.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“A passionate debut . . . this promising novel augers well for Mansbach’s future.” –Publishers Weekly
“Language that moves with all the grace and unpredictability of a thrilling solo.” –Jazziz