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Link to The Porcupine's Quill & The Razor's Edge:

What critics say...

‘Karl Jirgens is so hip in his use of his European tradition, that I am looking forward eagerly to his third story collection. He has a prominent place in my line of favourite Canadian writers.’

George Bowering

George Bowering won the 1969 Governor General's Literary Award in the poetry category for his works The Gangs of Cosmos and Rocky Mountain Foot. He also won the Governor General's Award for Fiction in 1980 for his novel Burning Water. He was short-listed for the Griffin Prize for his novel, Changing on the Fly.

"Emotionally vivid and formally inventive, these stories are a fascinating blend of fiction, nonfiction and, at times, memoir, rich with captivating detail. As each story unfolds, you realize that it is not the story you expected was being told. The Razor’s Edge not only takes you into an engaging fictional world, but immerses you in thought and memory, the compelling music and texture of storytelling itself."

Gary Barwin

Gary Barwin’s national bestselling novel Yiddish for Pirates won the Leacock Medal for Humour and the Canadian Jewish Literary Award, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was long listed for Canada Reads.

"Karl Jirgens writes like no one else in this country. Every piece in this collection is a tour de force, weaving together history and idea and story with a wit that thrills as much as it challenges, leaving always that shiver at the back of the neck that comes from being in the presence of the ineffable."

Nino Ricci

Nino Ricci’s first novel, Lives of the Saints, won the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, the SmithBooks/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and the F.G. Bressani Prize and was made into a motion picture starring Sophia Loren.

“An epistemologically laden document, rich in immanence on the noumena of being.” While Karl Jirgens was referring to a refrigerator manual featuring an enlightening explication of sounds that might be heard to emanate from said appliance, there could not be a more apt description of his own marvellous new publication. The Razor’s Edge is in its own fascinating way, a manual of sorts as well—a guide to human nature via the lenses of philosophy, history, mythology, semiotics, mysticism, architecture, martial arts, dream, and divination. "

Steve Venright

Steve Venright is a visual artist and poet whose books include The Least You Can Do Is Be Magnificent: Selected and New Writings (Feed Dog Books, an imprint of Anvil Press, Series Editor: Stuart Ross) Floors of Enduring Beauty (Mansfield Press) and Spiral Agitator (Coach House Books). His Torpor Vigil Records label is known for releasing extraordinary recordings by singer- composer Samuel Andreyev and legendary sleeptalker Dion McGregor.

Steven Venright’s web-sites:


"Karl Jirgens’ narration is self-aware but not self-indulgent, never getting in the way of a concise or complex line. This is world-class storytelling, simply put, with spell-binding journeys. Beginning with “The Freshness of a Dream,” the hook was in.  Reminds me of Günter Grass (as opposed to Jerzy Kosiński), carrying the light Herman Hesse uncovered, to wade through the swamp of the dark places. Jirgens tracks artifacts of the elusive oral to hard artifact letters from an uncle imprisoned in the Gulag. Readers, collectors and writers of short stories should buy The Razor’s Edge. This book is not by a unique Canadian writer but a formative writer of our endangered spinning blue gem."

Karl Kempton

Karl Kempton’s lexical and visual poems have been exhibited and published nationally and internationally with over 50 titles and over 15 collections e-published on the web, published in over 70 anthologies, and exhibited in over 100 group shows. He is the editor publisher of Kaldron a periodical devoted to visual-poetics:

"Jirgens has maintained an impressive reputation as a writer. He’s authored fiction (like Strappado from Coach House Books (1985), and A Measure of Time from Mercury Press (1995), and non-fiction (like books on bill bissett and Christopher Dewdney from ECW Press). And then, in his latest collection, The Razor’s Edge (2022), Jirgens just goes ahead and smudges out the razor-carved line in the sand between fiction and non-fiction entirely."

Jade Wallace (CAROUSEL)

Jade Wallace, Reviews Editor for CAROUSEL, and author of Love Is A Place But You Cannot Live There (Guernica Editions, 2023)

"Time isn’t lost. It’s coming back around, the past laid out for us like a wide open, four-lane highway north. Or, in Karl Jirgens’ line of thought, time is the recovered-and-aching movement of an earth-bound clock hovering from the Pantheon over Paris. That is time’s measure at the heart of Jirgens’ recent stories in The Razor’s Edge, a wondrous collection where time itself is held up at the world’s edge."

Garin Cycholl

Garin Cycholl, Reviewer for The Typescript, and author of Rx (Atmosphere Press, 2022).

"There is something Proustian about the device Karl Jirgens uses for his narrator in The Razor’s Edge…. Something about the narrator’s left-right two-step dance also places the reader on a razor edge.  By that I mean that in reading, one is continually led to question one’s own bents and contradictions.”

Gail Scott

Gail Scott, broadly published author including The Obituary (Coach House, 2010) and Permanent Revolution (Book*hug, 2021).

"Such an oblique passing nod to a Proustian search for lost time is hard to miss here, as elsewhere in his carefully constructed stories about people, whether living, dead or imaginary. He reminds the reader that there will indeed be a future, though not necessarily the one we expect or hope for, and that is how he tracks the smoke of memory to the actuality of fire. There’s a good reason why this storyteller opens his collection with an epigram reference to Franz Kafka, master of unreliable memories, and the patron saint of unreliable narrators: “A book must be an axe that breaks the frozen sea within us.” Karl Jirgens hands us just such an axe in The Razor’s Edge, and he cracks open the private sea inside himself, until it slowly melts into first a river and then a waterfall, one perfect sentence at a time."

Donald Brackett

Donald Brackett is a Vancouver-based journalist and curator who writes about music, art and films. He has been the Executive Director of both the Professional Art Dealers Association of Canada and The Ontario Association of Art Galleries. He is a prolific author. See; Back to Black: Amy Winehouse’s Only Masterpiece (Backbeat Books, 2016), and Yoko Ono: An Artful Life, (‎Sutherland House, 2022)

"Karl Jirgens (or Karl’s doppleganger) accomplishes his cerebral journeys through various literary constructs. To begin, he repeats particular images or motifs throughout the stories: dreams, mirrors, tarot cards, ghosts, food, displaced persons, war and/or conflict, history, myths and fables, Eastern mysticism, martial arts, allusions and/or references to pop culture and art/intellectual icons. Secondly, he employs a writing style that appears almost adlib, or free-association-like, using these same images and motifs to effortlessly move/jump from one new topic to another."

—Stan Rogal

Stan Rogal resides in Toronto. His writings have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies in Canada, the USA, and Europe. He's published 26 books. He is a lapsed agnostic and a non-practicing pansexual.

"Given the thematic “width” of the collection – from pop culture to classical literature, from historical events to contemporary relationships, from scientific experiments to divination, from the trivia of daily life to the horrors of holocaust and genocide – Jirgens could have easily lost his balance. He is, after all, performing a first-person/narrator high wire act here and it doesn’t take much to fall. That he didn’t, that he keeps the reader interested (nay, more than interested – inextricably involved to the very end on multiple levels), is a tribute to his writing skills, the intricacy of the interwoven material, and the truth of the central themes that he worries to the bone in each of the stories."

—Michael Mirolla

Michael Mirolla is author of a clutch of novels, plays, film scripts, short story, and poetry collections, plus a novella, The Last News Vendor, which won the 2020 Hamilton Literary Award for fiction. He’s won three Bressani Prizes and was nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. He lives Hamilton, ON.

About The Razor's Edge

Karl Jirgens’ collection of short stories, The Razor’s Edge, responds to Somerset Maugham's novel of the same title. Like Maugham's protagonist, Larry Durrell, the narrator in this suite of stories is traumatized by the state of the world and is on a quest for transcendent meaning in life.

In The Razor’s Edge, Karl Jirgens presents a collection of interlinked fictions that inhabit halfway worlds between past and present, dream and actuality, science and divination. Ordinary daily activities and events lead to unexpected slides into lucid dreams and flirtations with the edge of madness. Drawing on literature and pop culture (from Cinderella and Hamlet to Vladimir Mayakovsky and Anthony Bourdain) as well as the history of twentieth-century genocides (including the Holocaust and the Gulag), these complex, magic-realist stories suggest that what seems separate is really interconnected, that the distinction between past, present and future is illusion, and that we might all die of the truth if the truth were truly known.

From the book:

"Unwillingly, I’ve become part of the story. Questions lie when reconstructing incomplete facts, half-truths, enigmas. What remains is incompletion, interruption. Only the dead know what happened."

Click here to read more about The Razor's Edge.


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