How has Duncan come to abandon the sanctity of human life they taught him? What kind of loyalty do parents owe a self-confessed murderer? In post-apartheid South Africa the defense of their son's life is in the hands of a black man: Hamilton Motsamai, a flamboyant, distinguished advocate returned from political exile. The balance of everything in the parents' world is turned upside down.
The House Gun is a passionate narrative of that final text of complex human relations we call love, moving from the intimate to the general condition. If it is a parable of present violence it is also an affirmation of the will to reconciliation that starts where it must, between individual men and women.
As with all Gordimer works, the pace is slow and deliberately so, the words carefully chosen not to describe action but to allow the reader into the minds and souls of people who have lived in circumstances of which the majority of us can hardly conceive. The plot, intriguing though it is, is really secondary to the introspection taken on by each of the accused murderer's parents; the most pressing question, that of choosing to support your child with whatever means you have at your disposal (financial, spiritual, intellectual, emotional)in the face of your indecision as to whether or not you believe his version of events (or if any version of events would be acceptable). If your child murdered someone else, how would you feel? What would you do? Is the social legacy of apartheid going to color your beliefs; what happens when you are "open-minded" (no one ever really is), and your child commits a race crime? Do you use the race card to exonerate him, even when you are repulsed by his choice and behavior? And while the stress of saving your child from what he or she deserves in the course of law taps all of your inner resources, what happens to your marriage, your career, your friendships, your faith? Do you question all of your motives, all of your beliefs, all of your emotions?
I believe that you do. Every crisis, by nature, requires self-examination. It is not always pretty, or easy to accept, what you find at the end of your questioning. Gordimer, here, takes this family's condition, in microcosm, to expose South Africa's current quandary, many years after the abolition of Apartheid. Where do they stand as a society? What do they believe? What is excusable, what is justifiable? Who pays for what has been done, and how? Where will they go? What will be possible? No one knows, and maybe that's too unsettling for most.