Posts Tagged ‘the things that linger’

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So… I read and reviewed my buddy Jessica Topper’s new release, Softer Than Steel. I don’t blame you if you’re too lazy or busy to click through, so I’ll say this: I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to.

Now that it’s been over a month since I finished reading, I’ve found that, like all of her other books, it’s lingered with me. With Louder Than Love, it was the idea of drunk Adrian showing up at the library. That’s such a packed image. With Deeper than Dreams, it’s the image of Kat sitting on the steps of the library while Adrian does that spoiler thing. Just… wow. The beauty of it. With The Dictatorship of the Dress, it’s… well, hell. It’s a lot. The bean. Sleeping in the tub. The Magic 8 ball. The feel that Laney gives off whenever she appears on a page. I think she’s Topper’s best overall character, to be honest. Laney and I connected, and she hasn’t fully let me go yet.

But in Softer than Steel, I keep coming back to the idea of the ner tamid, the eternal light that hangs over the bima in a synagogue, shul, or temple. The idea of that light watching Sidra teach her yoga classes. Watching Riff learn to let go of his past. Watching Sidra and Riff love each other.

That’s heavy stuff. It’s got the obvious God reference, since that’s part of what the ner tamid represents. (Part! All you purists, hush! I am Reform!)

But there’s a metaphysical sense, too. Something not quite Godlike, not so obvious. I stretch for it, but can’t quite get it… there’s a feeling of safety under that particular ner tamid, a sense that it’s taking care of more than Sidra and Riff. A sense that the light helps contribute to the mood of the yoga studio, that it enables everything that happens under its watchful eye.

And that’s what lingers for me. It’s a lovely image, not at all creepy, if you’re reading this and thinking along those lines (Hey, Halloween does approach). Safety, protection, and the growth that can occur when someone who’s been badly traumatized finds safety at last.

This is what I take away from Softer than Steel, more than anything. It probably says more about me than it should, more than Jessica ever intended.

But reading, as we all know, is an intensely personal experience.

Playing into this for me is the fact that although my house was never a synagogue, a shul, OR a temple, I’ve got a ner tamid of my own, strangely enough. I still can’t figure out what the builder was thinking when he installed a light on a circuit that never turns off and has no switch. When I was new to the house, I put a bulb in the fixture, a simple white canister of a light. It begs for a couple of hands and a clock mechanism, this fixture. That’s how I found there’s no switch and no circuit I can flip without shutting down other parts of the house.

But this light? It wasn’t comforting. It didn’t make me feel safe.


Just the opposite, in fact. It was creepy, this stark white light that illuminated the bathroom and reflected off the tub underneath. Malevolent. Even now, years after I promptly removed that bulb, I look at that light covering with an uneasy feeling.

It’s kind of funny, really. I’m a Rock Fiction expert. You’d think I’d have connected to the record store, which plays a magnificent role in Softer. Or to Riff, who is a fascinating man.

But nope. It’s a light. A relic from a time when the building was something else, when it meant the same kind of safety and protection that it offers in the book’s present.

And that, of all the elements in the book, is what lingers with me.