The reflective novel Playing with Players dives deep into the intricacies of Canadian tax codes and the broader meaning of the law.
In Chris Stock’s novel Playing with Players, an eccentric but skilled Canadian tax auditor investigates tax avoidance schemes, some with national implications.
Framed as the memoir of an escort-turned-accounting student, Alice, who recounts the life of her longtime client, Jack, the book is detailed when it comes to Jack’s diligent work ensuring that taxpayers contribute their fair share to Canada’s coffers. Alice lays bare Jack’s mind: he eschews personal attachments and lays out technical tax court cases in a meticulous fashion, displaying great knowledge and mastery of his subject matter.
The text alludes to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which Jack often reads and quotes, seeing a similarity between the oppositional relationship in the poem and his own work as a foil to tax fraud. Frequent musings on Milton’s poetry add a philosophical dimension to the novel’s parade of tax cheats, as with someone who claims that “it ain’t easy” to raise a family on a reported annual income of $10,000.
Alice is sold short in this work. She’s introduced as a precocious accounting student at a community college with an unorthodox mentor, but devotes her time to telling someone else’s story. She’s sketched in a few broad strokes, and inserts just a few of her own thoughts as asides. She ends up functioning as a stenographer, recording Jack’s every idea, reminiscence, and opinion. In the process, she breezes past an incident that saw her airlifted off a boat in a drug-induced coma, launching instead into a description of how Jack had to switch from working with paper files to Microsoft Word. Further, Alice’s recall of the specifics of Jack’s life, though she didn’t see him for months at a time, strains credulity. Her motivations for placing such intent focus on him are unclear, beyond than that he “showed her tenderness.”
The book’s structure is episodic, stacking one case upon another and indulging in various tangents—considering, for example, differences between Canadian and American tax auditing. Its wild stories from Jack’s life are entertaining, though, including one in which a farmer kills a chicken during a tour, another in which an audited taxpayer becomes belligerent when his wife’s bingo earnings are questioned, and one in which a drug-dealing biker menaces Jack with his German Shepherd. These stories are narrated with flair.
While the book is often lively, at other times it is thick with legalese. Long portions of it explicate statutes, court rulings, and legal precedents and interrupt the flow of Jack’s story. Still, the work builds toward a tragic but hopeful resolution that illustrates the lasting impact that one person can have on the world.
With an auditor at its center, the reflective novel Playing with Players dives deep into the intricacies of Canadian tax codes and the broader meaning of the law.
Joseph S. Pete
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