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.