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David Kushner grew up in the early 1970s in the Florida suburbs. It was when kids still ran free, riding bikes and disappearing into the nearby woods for hours at a time. One morning in 1973, however, everything changed. David s older brother Jon biked through the forest to the convenience store for candy, and never returned.
Every life has a defining moment, a single act that charts the course we take and determines who we become. For Kushner, it was Jon s disappearance a tragedy that shocked his family and the community at large. Decades later, now a grown man with kids of his own, Kushner found himself unsatisfied with his own memories and decided to revisit the episode a different way: through the eyes of a reporter. His investigation brought him back to the places and people he once knew and slowly made him realize just how much his past had affected his present. After sifting through hundreds of documents and reports, conducting dozens of interviews, and poring over numerous firsthand accounts, he has produced a powerful and inspiring story of loss, perseverance, and memory. "Alligator Candy "is searing and unforgettable."
From our buyer, Erin Crutchfield: "Alligator Candy is a very chilling memoir set in early 1970s Tampa, Florida. When the author was a young child his older brother, Jon, rode his bike to the local convenience store to buy candy but he never returned. Because the author was so young when his brother was murdered he goes through the process of reexamining and interviewing others to discover what really happened to his brother and to fill in the gaps in his memory of the traumatic event."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-08
- Reviewer: Staff
In this solemn memoir, journalist Kushner returns to the horrifying murder of his brother in Tampa in 1973. Kushner, only four years old at the time, begged 11-year-old Jonathan to get him candy at the local 7-Eleven and then watched him cycle away into the woods. Jonathan never returned, and his disappearance led to an extraordinary search that apprehended the murderers, two psychopaths who had been stalking children in the area. One of the killers was executed; when the second became eligible for parole, Kushner felt compelled to research and confront the tragedy that he had avoided for so long. The strength of Kushner’s narrative lies in his exploration of how trauma distorts and reshapes even the strongest families. In the wake of Jonathan’s murder, Kushner’s father, a progressive anthropology professor, shifted his research to focus on grief and loss, while his mother helped pioneer hospice care. Yet the family members rarely shared their feelings, and Kushner couldn’t bring himself to write about the murder until after his father’s death. Kushner’s effort to grapple with his loss takes far more space than the actual investigation, and at times, the narrative is unfocused and confusing. Nevertheless, his vivid evocation of his brother, his family, and their Jewish, academic, Southern milieu is a moving tribute. (Mar.)
Hunting down answers in a brother's murder
Award-winning journalist and Princeton University professor David Kushner was 4 years old when he asked his 11-year-old brother to bring home his favorite candy from the convenience store, just a short bike ride away through the woods. He could not have imagined that he would never see Jon again. Neither could his family, or anyone else in 1973 Tampa, Florida, where children were free to explore the outside world and parents fearlessly encouraged it. Jon’s brutal murder killed such innocence. Kushner’s riveting memoir, Alligator Candy, begins by asking how any parent or family can survive such unimaginable evil and devastating grief.
Growing up in the shadow of Jon’s death, Kushner heard the rumors and imagined all kinds of things, but he resisted learning the factual details of the crime, afraid of asking questions that could resurrect his parents’ grief. When, years later, one of the killers received a parole hearing, Kushner and his oldest brother attended. They learned how horrifically Jon died, how the killers were caught—and what became of the candy Jon never brought home that day.
Kushner interviews those who searched for Jon and hunted down his killers. He taps the memories of those who mourned with and supported his family. His parents at last share their boundless sorrow, and how they survived. “Time goes by,” writes his mother, “and grief finds a niche . . . and goes along, too, included in everything. ‘I’m here,’ says Grief. ‘Never mind me, just go about your business.’ ” Finally, he knows as much as he can about the brother he was barely old enough to remember.
Now a parent himself, Kushner must balance his fear of random evil against the statistical rarity of child murder. The struggle becomes terrifyingly real when his 3-year-old daughter disappears at a carnival. Yet he goes on to share the joy of her first solo bike ride. Parents today can understand the love, hope and fear he so eloquently describes in this account of one family’s transcendent courage in the face of crushing pain.