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Rattlesnake Daddy: A Son's Search for His Father Reprint Edition

16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1935218180
ISBN-10: 1935218182
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Editorial Reviews


"Rattlesnake Daddy is a real page-turner, and like the best mysteries it pushes aside the grim fact of death in favor of the life-affirming attempt to understand."─Oronte Churm, Inside Higher Ed

From the Back Cover

"Powerful and moving. Spencer writes like a bruised angel."--Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World and Writing the Sacred Into the Real

"Brent Spencer's Rattlesnake Daddy paints a wonderfully vivid portrait of a chaotic, colorful, venomous man who was the author's absent father.  Spencer turns his father's nomadic life and puzzling death in the Florida Keys into a true-life mystery story, rendered with quiet clarity, deep compassion, and a pitch-perfect voice.  Spencer's writing is truly exquisite."--Dinty Moore, author of Between Panic and Desire and The Accidental Buddhist
"'A father is the mystery his son never solves,' Spencer writes.  But in this haunted and haunting memoir/detective story, he comes as close as he can without actually crawling into his father's rattlesnake skin."--Robin Hemley, author of Do-Over! and Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness

"Rattlesnake Daddy is the compelling story of a son's chase, a journey into secrets and mysteries and the venom of the past, present, and future. It is also an attempt at intimacy and understanding. Populated with a cast of remarkable characters and a sequence of stunning scenes, Rattlesnake Daddy is unforgettable for its clear-sighted contemplation of the sins of the father, and in their wake, the complicated yearnings of the son."--Lee Martin, author of From Our House and The Bright Forever

"Rattlesnake Daddy is amazing.  Alternately horrifying, funny, analytical, and heart-wrenching, it skillfully and affectingly tells a father-son story like none I've ever encountered: of a cruel and menacing psychopath who managed to seem not just sane but admirable, and of a son who overcame endless varieties of torture to write this stunning memoir of good riddance.  Out of what Brent Spencer calls his father's "catalogue of mysteries," he has crafted a literary form of exorcism that is nothing less than a masterpiece."--Ron Hansen, author of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Exiles

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: The Backwaters Press; Reprint edition (March 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935218182
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935218180
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,126,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in Bethesda, Maryland, but grew up mainly in northeastern Pennsylvania, though my family is from southern Indiana and northern Kentucky. I'm the author of The Lost Son, a novel, and Are We Not Men?, a collection of short fiction, both from Arcade Publishing, run by the legendary Richard Seaver. My recent books include Rattlesnake Daddy: A Son's Search for His Father, a memoir about my father's mysterious life and death (The Backwaters Press). I'm also the author of two Kindle Select books on the writing of fiction: Dialogue Tips & Traps and Making a Scene. My short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Missouri Review, Epoch, and elsewhere. I teach fiction writing, screenwriting, and literature at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

I'm married to the writer Jonis Agee. Together we are the indentured servants to two bichons frises and one horse. We live in Ponca Hills, which is close to the Missouri River, north of Omaha, Nebraska. For more information, go to

(Photo credit: Miriam Berkley)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By maddog on June 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
For the last two decades we have been bombarded by memoirs and "project" books. Most of them are uninspired because writing has become a function of the idea and not a process in the service of the art. And though I am not completely jaded by our cultural and literary enterprises, I am aware that Helen of Troy has been replaced by Snooki. As a teacher, I am truly happy for those people that become empowered to write their stories; however, a good story does not make a good writer, and quite often a good writer cannot make a good story. "Rattlesnake Daddy," is that rare and exquisite achievement that comes as a gift to a gifted writer. I would not have wished this author's life on him, the tyranny of a troubled father, the anger of abandonment, the innumerable acts of violence and rage acted out on him--but he has managed to serve notice to his readers that our lives are what we have and, however difficult, we navigate through them. This is an inspired story of staking claim to the baggage of one's life. It is not a Disney movie, far from it--it is sometimes all too real. It is a journey, an encounter with the ghosts that many parents can be. It is a beautifully structured book, intelligent in design and execution. But for me what is most rewarding in the book is that ultimately the father and son are "united" by their writing, by the keeping of papers, letters, journals, even assignments from school. In many respects the book is an "Ars Poetica," addressing the lasting value of good writing---how it may connect generations, fathers to sons, stranger to stranger. It was for me a blessing to read, a gift that I will surely share. It is a generous, brave, and extremely well-written account of a necessary, if not vital, passage.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By SLA on August 4, 2011
Format: Paperback
_Rattlesnake Daddy_ is a stunning book. Ron Hansen has rightly called it "...amazing.... horrifying, funny, analytical, and heartwrenching.... nothing less than a masterpiece." The compassion and humor Brent Spencer brings to the story of his search for the truth about his vicious and mysterious father is astonishing. I kept thinking of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, and L. Gish's Rachel saying, "It's a hard world for little things." It's cliche, perhaps, to call such a memoir a triumph, and odd to describe so harrowing an account as a pleasure to read, but this remarkable book is both.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. D. Rummel on January 8, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Brent Spencer's Rattlesnake Daddy is an astounding read. All the other reviewers have rightly praised this work regarding ways it spoke to them. My focus here is purely on reading it as a father.

This should at the least be elective reading for all parents but fathers and their children will benefit from it most of all. What Spencer does here is shine a light on what children come to the table with and how a bad parent (and Spencer's father is so bad it isn't fair to rattlesnakes the world over) can utterly and permanently scar a human mind and soul. Spencer's storytelling is comfortable and compelling like sitting with an old friend who has decided to open up about something that has been troubling him. There are moments of heartbreak that will take away the reader's breath and leave any ordinary compassionate person shaking with rage at the cruelty that Spencer survives. What makes it more infuriating is that the person inflicting this abuse is someone that all persons are hard wired to trust and look to for guidance.

But Spencer does survive. He survives and brings us this story, his story. This work is a testament to human spirit, intelligence and sheer toughness. Spencer paints a portrait of a wounded psyche that struggles to reconcile a horrific cheat. All people want and need fundamentals from their parents. How does a responsible human being respond when those needs are met with unfathomable cruelty instead of love. This is more than a survivor's account, it is a settling of accounts as the author struggles with the demon that was his father and the terrible gift of dark spirits that father gave him.

Do yourself a favor. Buy and read this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lucy Adkins on March 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
In Rattlesnake Daddy, Brent Spencer tells a story I will never forget--it is heartbreaking, funny, thought-provoking and peopled by a series of amazing characters, the kind of wonderful, terrible story that gets under your skin, the kind you care about. It is a quest, the story of a journey from Pennsylvania to Indiana to Key West to a string of towns along the Mexican border--and as the sub-title indicates, it is the story of a son's search for his father.

Fathers are powerful figures. But they can be cruel, inflicting both physical and emotional pain, all the while seeming rational and wise, with the child on the receiving end of such punishment left to feel that he is in the wrong, the one not quite up to snuff. When such a father disappears for thirty years and then dies under mysterious circumstances, a great hole is left behind, and a great many questions. Who was this man, the son asks. And how is he to feel about his death? Does he mourn?

What Spencer does is take a road trip to visit the places his father frequented; and he takes his readers along with him--to the mouth of the Rio Grande, the City of Ghosts, and Chihuahua, Mexico. We visit a curandera, (a witch or healer), and walk along with the Red-Eyed Dog. And we go on a trip into the past, the past of the father and the past of the son. There are stories of heroism and near-escapes and stories of hurt and longing. The tale of a trip to a revival meeting held in a brush arbor is some of the best writing I have ever read. This book is amazing. I highly recommend you buy it, read it and share it with your friends.
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