A Single Senseless Act Leads to A Lifetime of Introspection

In his memoir, David Kushner comes to grips with a brother’s brutal murder.

David Kushner was only four in 1973, when his 11-year-old brother Jonathan was abducted and brutally murdered in the woods near their Florida home. This tragic event wrapped the rest of his childhood in a menacing shadow, shaking his family’s free-spirited community to the core, and changing the course of his life.

Alligator Candy: A Memoir (Simon & Schuster), Kushner’s account of his search for meaning in the chaotic aftermath of that single, senseless act, is both probing and emotionally charged. He questions how a family can move on from such an event, addressing the interplay between “the fear and the freedom” that dominates his parents’ thoughts from then on, and later his own mind as a parent. Over the next several years, the trials and appeals of the two accused killers continued to make national headlines, haunting the family members as they attempted to come to terms with their grief.

The author, a Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University, attempts to understand all sides of the story, revisiting the past from the viewpoints of his family and neighbors, the police, search-party volunteers, members of his synagogue, and accounts from the accused and their families.

Kushner’s book orbits around this central, pivotal moment in his life, each rotation an effort to connect more deeply with the truth, and to the brother he barely knew, but whom his family has carried in memory.

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