From award-winning journalist David Kushner, a reported memoir about family, survival, and the unwavering power of love—and the basis for the podcast Alligator Candy.
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.
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.