William Kennedy’s Albany novels tell the saga of the Irish American Phelan, Quinn, and Daugherty families, and a sixth, Legs, deals with the Depression-era gangster Jack “Legs” Diamond. All share the upstate New York region, the city of Albany in particular, as their principal location and involve historical and fictional figures and events. The Albany cycle portrays events and characters during many decades, and the most influential characters and events are interwoven through several novels.
Legs, the first novel of the cycle to be published, stands outside the family saga and is the fictionalized story of Legs Diamond, a complex antihero who achieved mythic status among the urban working classes during the politically corrupt years of Prohibition. Its narrator, Marcus Gorman, is a decadent Albany lawyer who is fascinated with Diamond. Gorman befriends and legally defends Diamond, acting as the intelligent observer of societal norms and corrupt deviance from them. He appears as a minor character in the second novel, Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game, which also involves the seamier side of Albany political life. Billy Phelan, the central character, is the abandoned son of the man who is the central character of Kennedy’s breakthrough work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ironweed, which properly begins the saga of individual, family, and ethnic identity.
Francis Phelan is the guilt-ridden father who has...
(The entire section is 413 words.)