Shackling Water

“Certain stuff you were supposed to do in private—fast, pray, woodshed—because to have cats know about it might sully the ritual’s purity, shade your motivations with self-consciousness.  All of a moment you might find yourself looking left then right before helping a blind man across the street, not to check for traffic but in hopes of being seen.” (15)

I read this line in Adam Mansbach’s Shackling Water and thought, “Damn.  In two sentences he nailed a sin we’re all guilty of sometimes, pinpointed the way we all know we’re guilty and try to avoid it, and underscored just how our own awareness of it is in itself self-conscious.  “Woodshedding,” in case you don’t know, is holing up with your instrument and playing, working it with the pure motivation of chasing the music down.  It has to be done in private, with absolute dedication, and it marks a true musician.  The minute it marks the musician, however, it becomes the property of observers.  I’m muddying this all up trying to explain the quote, which does such a crystalline job of explaining the phenomenon.

Reading Adam Mansbach as a writer is humbling.  His work is full of jump and energy.  Every word works, every sentence packs a punch.  He writes the way his main character, Latif, wants to play.

Do you remember that movie when Jack Nicholson tells Helen Hunt, “You make me want to be a better man”?  That’s what this book did to me as a writer.  It kicked me in the ass.  I’ve fallen into a rut, taking an easy formula that works for me.  My words and my sentences are lazy.  Shackling Water makes me want to be a better writer.  It’s moving and intense, to be sure, but Mansbach never takes the easy route to his readers’ emotions.  Latif is working hard, Mansbach is working hard, and it makes the reader want to work hard, too.

Perhaps the best part is the end, because it’s not definitive.  I’m so tired of endings that are neatly tied up.  Such a cop-out wouldn’t be worthy of this book.  I won’t say any more, because everything I say about the book will lessen the intensity of reading it for the first time.  I’ll stop now so you can go get the book.

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