I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Mickey Kefauver’s forthcoming biography of Hack Wilson, The Aching Beauty of an American Sot. Kefauver’s work contains multitudes, and among those multitudes is a walking tour of Wilson’s gut. By “gut” I do not mean any sort of belt-straining protuberance, but rather the life and ultimately self-immolating work of Wilson’s innermost innards.
Let me share a couple of passages. First, this medical revelation upon Wilson’s being hospitalized in 1933, for drunkenness in general and suspected Catholicity in particular:
Hack Wilson was a drunk, but he was a drunk not of his own volition, you see. A bounty of yeast had turned his belly parts into a craft brewery, and so the gut-beer flowed without ceasing, like the prayers of the already damned.
Second comes this, when Kefauver, in the service of a more soaring narrative, shifts momentarily to the second person and in doing so snatches the reader up by his tailored lapels:
But he was dying when he called you, from a progressive fibrosis of the lungs brought on not by smoking — he never smoked — but, apparently, by years inhaling the alcohol fumes that surged up from his gut.
It was indeed the gut-beer that killed Wilson, but not by daily sieges upon the liver or even the boozy crash of a motor-car. You see, Hack Wilson died because he was overtaken by stomach fumes without ceasing, like the damnations of a prayerful man.