The Knees of Gullah Island

November 12, 2008
By Olivia Alford, Harrisonburg, VA

Bent knees straighten crooked deeds: a theme, a concept, a way of life

Dwight Fryer, after earning himself much deserved national recognition, has once again delivered with The Knees of Gullah Island. This second novel by Fryer is written as the prequel to his first, The Legend of Quito Road, which earned him an NAACP nomination for Outstanding Literary Work from a Debut Author. In The Legend of Quito Road, Son Erby and his assortment of antics take center stage as he battles with the color line and the various hardships that accompany it during the 1930's. The Knees of Gullah Island acts as a precursor, setting the stage of the lowcountry area and introducing the key players alluded to in that first novel. The most notable of these characters is Gillam Hale, who is Son Erby's grandfather. The Knees of Gullah Island tells the story of Gillam Hale, his wife Queen Esther, and their son, Joseph, as they attempt to reconnect their family torn apart by slavery.

On his website,, Fryer calls his second novel a “timeless story of love, loss, hope, and rebirth.” These themes lend the reader an astounding amount of material that can be related to life today and is appropriate for any age group. Each idea is presented multiple times throughout the plot and various subplots, and each reference returns to the central theme of “bent knees straighten crooked deeds.”

Just like in The Legend of Quito Road, Dwight Fryer writes from a perspective in The Knees of Gullah Island that offers an inside look into the rich culture of the Gullah people from the South Carolina lowcountry. Complete with a Gullah word translation at the beginning of the novel, The Knees of Gullah Island stays completely true to the dialect of the Gullah people. With the “ebil debbles” and the “libin' maumas”, Fryer so transforms the setting of the novel that the reader is right in the middle of all the action, turmoil, and hardships of the lowcountry.

The complexity and intertwined natures of the many relationships lend both a help and a hindrance to the overall effect of the story. Although the many characters and their various escapades add a lot of color to an already vibrant background, it tends to get somewhat confusing. Fryer aids this situation by providing a detailed family tree, which is fairly helpful, but trying to keep tabs on the multifaceted family lines as well as everything else that is going on becomes slightly overwhelming. Also, the juggling of complex plot lines as well as complex familial relationships partially takes away from the eloquent writing and intense underlying meanings that the book possesses.

As stated on the cover, the central theme of the book is “bent knees straighten crooked deeds.” Gillam Hale and his family are forced to straighten many deeds throughout the novel, whether it be deciding where it is that their true loyalties lie or trying to move on as a family. Through his writing and the delightfully intricate Hale world that he creates, Dwight Fryer does indeed create that timeless story of love, loss, hope, and rebirth.

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