(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In Legs, Kennedy creates a fictional biography recounting the last year and a half of the life of Albany’s most notorious gangster. Jack “Legs” Diamond—a real-life bootlegger, murderer, drug dealer, and rascal—lived above the law, carrying out his business in upstate New York during Prohibition in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Kennedy’s fictional account of this legendary figure was five years in the making, the result of painstaking historical research and eight drafts. Legs is, however, more than a catalog of one gangster’s exploits. It is a psychological and sociological look at America’s fascination with gangsters, murderers, and criminals of all types. Jack, like many gangsters of his era, was a celebrity, a national obsession. The newspapers were filled with details of his every move. He received fan mail, and cheers filled the courtroom when he was acquitted of one particularly brutal assault.

Legs is narrated by Marcus Gorman, Jack’s employee, friend, and admirer. The two first meet in the Catskills in 1925 when Marcus impresses Jack with his eloquent praise of Al Jolson, one of Jack’s favorite musicians. Later, Jack sends Marcus, an ambitious young lawyer, six quarts of Scotch in exchange for a pistol permit from Albany County. Attracted to the excitement and intrigue that surrounds this Irish American gangster-bootlegger, Marcus becomes Jack’s personal lawyer in 1930. While acknowledging the violence and crime, Marcus nevertheless idolizes his boss and recounts their days together with heartfelt admiration and devotion. Marcus declares that Jack was, above all, a man of...

(The entire section is 674 words.)