Alibi V.12 No.39 • Sept 25-Oct 1, 2003 

Art Article

Don't Leave Anything Out

Sylvia Smith's Appleby House

Anchor Books
paper
$12

Why is it that people are so interested in other people and what they do? Is it part of the human condition to need to know what others are up to? Is it jealousy? Voyeurism? Whatever the reason, it stands that rubbernecking at the scene of a car accident or even listening in on someone else's telephone conversation happens all the time.

Sylvia Smith's Appleby House caters to the idea that readers want a peek into the life of a stranger ... a stranger who doesn't mind their every move being watched. It is a story that details Smith's real life as a 38-year-old secretary who lived for a year in a two-story apartment building in East London in 1984.

Smith writes about the mundane acts of everyday life in a way that many people will be able to relate to, such as detailing the sounds of her flat-mates' footsteps coming up the stairs, what day she does her laundry and how she dries it or how she gets and finally gets over food poisoning. However, conversing with and watching her landlords, flatmates, neighbors and two outside friends are the bread and butter of Smith's existence.

The landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Appleby, act as the parent figures to Smith and some of the other tenants. Coming around only to collect rent and make repairs, the childless couple in their 60s are intuitive to the goings-on in the house. Their kindness is unfaltering and occasionally taken advantage of by young and selfish tenants.

Laura, who lives in the room adjacent to Smith, is an obnoxiously insensitive woman who blares her TV and stereo at top volume and screams while on the telephone. Her disregard for others eventually leads to the conflict within the house.

Another tenant Sharon lives with her boyfriend Peter in their small room on flat 1. Sharon is a lively college student full of personality who doesn't get along with her mother, and Peter is a “nice boy,” who rides a motorcycle and stays to himself.

Finally, 24-year-old Tracey moves in and becomes Smith's best friend. Recently separated from her husband, Tracy begins dating a man who eventually beats and verbally abuses her.

Characters come and go, as people do, but Smith takes it all in stride. She gives advice when she feels it's necessary, but otherwise stays to herself. Life seems to happen to others while Smith watches from the sidelines. On one hand it seems like a sad, boring and unfulfilling existence. Yet on the other, it may have been a time in her life in which Smith needed to view others in order to—if nothing more—accumulate fodder to fill the pages of this book. Only Smith herself could say for certain.

While Appleby House is not teeming with lively anecdotes, wild romps or any other type of edge-of-the-seat escapades, it somehow holds the attention and keeps the pages turning.