The Machine in Ward Eleven

ISBN: 1568582102
ISBN 13: 9781568582108
By: Charles Willeford

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Crime Fiction Libri Mental Illness Mysteries Thrillers Mystery Short Stories Novellas To Read To Read Noir Willeford

About this book

This reissue of Willeford's 1963 pulp classic is a timely reminder that madness is truly the dark heart of politics. Written at a time when people still had faith in their elected leaders, Willeford's book laid bare the American dream. There is an almost Chekhovian wistfulness in the treatment of his stories, which belies their considerable impact. "The most eloquently brainy and exacting pulp fiction ever fabricated!" -- Village VoiceContains the stories:1. The Machine in Ward Eleven2. Selected Incidents3. A Letter to A.A. (Almost Anybody)4. Jake's Journal5. "Just Like on Television--"6. The Alectrymancer

Reader's Thoughts

Larry Webber

Short stories, observances, add up to an unusual insight into Willeford, the young soldier of fortune.


At first I thought maybe all the stories were going to tie back to JC Blake, because both of the first stories are both about him, and I know that Willeford played around with POV shifts in other stories, but it's just the first two that connect, and the others are stand alones. As a whole, this collection is a lot tighter than The Second Half of the Double Feature. I've been reading his earlier stuff lately (Pick Up, Burnt Orange Heresy, Cockfighter, etc.), and this is definitely more of the ilk of his earlier novels: more noir and characters who you aren't quite sure are totally there, less gritty Miami cocaine crime fiction. I dunno, I still like Hoke Moseley the bestest best, but I like these little short stories that are a little off the rocker. Any of these characters might be mentally deranged or not. It was fun to read.


Read the first story. It was okay. Not sure that I feel inspired to continue. It was about a man in a psychiatric ward. It's unclear who he is, but he has memories of being a television director. A woman who says she's his wife comes to visit him every 30 days.Slowly, one gets the impression that he's in the ward by choice. Then, he's threatened with electroshock therapy, and the story briefly gains some momentum.


That was a fun read. Willeford was a favorite and inspiration of my father's (Blaster Al Ackerman) and I can totally see the affinity after reading these. The uneasy sense that the stories all wound in on themselves and the dark humor throughout reminded me of Borges. The completely untrustworthy narrators and subtle brutality reminded me of Will Self.

Douglas Castagna

I am a big fan of Willeford. I hunted this title down, found it on Ebay, and tore into it. The book, which is very slim, coming in at just over 140 pages, is comprised of six related stories. The titular story is the best in the bunch. While they are all related, some more so than others, they are not all as strong as the first one, and I do not believe they can stand on their own, except for the first story, and the last one in the book. The book was written well over fifty years ago, and I feel that some of the writing is dated. The third piece, is well written and interesting, and fits in with the theme and flow, but I think needs to be tied in better. All in all I was disappointed with the book as a whole.


Six stories, some of them related, all of them astonishingly good and original,in the style of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I’ve never read anything like these before, not so much for the kind of tales than for the unique writing. Actually is the best short story collection I ever read, and I’m not very fond on shorties. I can’t understand how someone cannot give this book five stars. I need to read more by Willeford.

Justin Howe

Short story collection from one of my favorite noir authors. Willeford is all over the map here, trying his hand at psychological horror, absurdist fable, and the occasional Twilight Zone piece. In Willeford's own words: "I had a hunch that madness was a predominant theme and normal condition for Americans living in the second half of this century."

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