Deidre Bair’s biography of Saul Steinberg records, according to Joseph Epstein, “an odyssey of success played out in counterpoint to an illiad of woe.” The popular artist, an elusive hybrid whose only blurred lines were those between art and commerce (at which he excelled), lived long and prospered. His fascinating life is in strong, attentive hands with Bair, an aficionado of artistic temperaments, troubles and peccadillos. (Indeed she probably treats him better than he treated himself.) This is hardly a surprise: Ms. Bair’s previous books mapped the intimate, often recondite cartographies of Samuel Beckett, Anais Nin, Carl Jung and Simone De Beauvoir.
Steinberg is most famous for a single oft-reproduced drawing he made for a New Yorker cover that shows the globe receding swiftly to its vanishing point from the solipsist’s view on 9th Avenue in Manhattan. Self defined as a “writer who draws”, Steinberg may have with this picture written his epic. Edith Wharton, Tom Wolfe, Paul Auster (and 842 other current Brooklyn-based novelists), Dos Passos, DeLillo, Doctorow, Claire Messud and Colum McCann are together but an amuse-bouche in the endless feast of scribes who’ve taken on the Metropolis and given us its flavor. But Steinberg’s single page is as resonant as any–and not just because you can have it for your shower curtain. It’s an archetype, as Dr. Jung might say.