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The Razor's Edge 

Karl Jirgens

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, author of The Gangs of Kosmos, Rocky Mountain Foot and Burning Water

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, author of Yiddish for Pirates

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, author of Lives of Saints

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. Dispensing with formal constraints, Jirgens creates an organic prose that is sinuous, cerebral, and uncannily intimate. The voice of this text, magnetic and companionable, evokes for me a line by the 20th century philosopher Marcus Bolan: “I love a book every time the writer talks to me like a friend.” And what a wonderful friend this author is for any reader whose sensibility resonates with that of the outsider, the dissident, the refugee, the adventurer, the soothsayer, and pioneering spirits of every vintage. His latest offering is a work of tremendous perception, compassion, poignancy, and wit. It is one of my favourite books ever."

Steve Venright, author of The Least You Can Do Is Be Magnificent: Selected and New Writings, Floors of Enduring Beauty and Spiral Agitator

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. Amazed in his maze of “Understanding the Sounds You Hear.” Other places, other senses playfully spun, cocooning the reader in a particular sense-field to then release with insight. Traveling into his pre- and post- WW2 Baltic family homeland (deep with asides). 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. Time-tenses flip: past jumps front and center, future back-flips smack-dab behind the back as shadow. References hard and echoey, bind the bundle of nine (stories), tracking/trekking immigrant displacement, Paris undergrounds and elsewheres undefinable: “not a this or that” disappearing in the rearview mirror as in Cocteau’s famous cinematic Orpheus moment). Jirgens concludes words are but smoke signals spiraling from an incense stick, known for millennia in South Asia before Buddha delivered his flower discourse, aromatically wafting forth, not a ch’an/zen birth. 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, editor publisher of Kaldron 

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:

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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