Thursday, August 16, 2018
Books

Festival of Reading: An excerpt from David Kushner's 'Alligator Candy'

The Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading presents more than 50 authors, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 12 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. David Kushner will speak at 3:15 p.m. in the Poynter Institute Barnes Pavillion. Find more information here.

David Kushner's memoir, Alligator Candy, tells a riveting true story that many longtime Tampa Bay area residents might remember: the abduction and murder in 1973 of David's older brother, 11-year-old Jonathan Kushner, and its long aftermath.

Jonathan was the son of University of South Florida anthropology professor Gilbert Kushner and his wife, Lorraine, an activist for natural childbirth. After the boy disappeared, hundreds of USF students and staffers, as well as many community members and dozens of law enforcement personnel, joined an extraordinary weeklong search for him. The story became national news.

David Kushner grew up to be a journalist; he has published several other books and written for Rolling Stone, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Wired and the New York Times Magazine. He is a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

Here is an excerpt from Alligator Candy.

Colette Bancroft, Times book editor

At some point, I saw their faces. The older one had short, dark hair and a high forehead, buggy eyes, a thick mustache. The newspaper photo of the younger one showed him with his eyes shut, thick hair swept low over his right eye; he wore a dark T-shirt. As far as I could recall, no one sat me down and showed me the pictures of the men who murdered my brother. I would just occasionally see the photos in a newspaper left on the kitchen table alongside the comics, the sports, the weather. Apparently something was happening — something in the court system — that was keeping the story in the news, even years later.

I could bear to look at the pictures only for so long before I had to turn away. Part of me wanted to know more about these men: Who were they? What exactly did they do? They knew the answers to everything that haunted me. How long had they been in those woods? How long had they planned this? Was there a reason they selected him?

But the part of me that wanted to know all this was small. The rest of me felt sickened, frightened, horrified that there were actually real people behind my brother's death. Before seeing their faces, I had consoled myself by keeping their images in the abstract; by not visualizing anyone at all. All I saw was my own edited filmstrip of Jon's final day: our conversation, his departure, the blur of the red metal bike, the banana seat, the high handlebars, twirling pedals, the woods, and then a curtain of darkness dropping forever. I didn't want to see the faces that were watching Jon that day. I certainly didn't want to know their names. All I caught was the last name of the older one, Witt, and the moment I saw it, I tried to erase it from my mind.

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