Book review: The Adventurer’s Son, by Roman Dial

Nearly six years ago, Cody Roman Dial went missing in Costa Rica on what was supposed to be a four-day solo hike through Corcovado National Park.

Twenty-two torturous months later, his family — including mother Peggy, sister Jazz, and father Roman, the legendary Alaskan adventurer — and friends finally got closure, when a local miner discovered his remains. Evidence at the scene did not suggest foul play; a snake bite or falling tree was more likely responsible.

In The Adventurer’s Son ($29, 978-0062876607), Roman recounts the search for and celebrates the life of Cody Roman Dial. As you might imagine, and as Roman directly confirms in the prologue, it was “a painful book to write: full of nostalgia, catharsis, sadness, longing, and struggles with guilt.”

I briefly met Cody Roman in July 2009, while I was in Anchorage preparing for the Wilderness Classic, but we never intersected or communicated again. His father, Roman, is a friend and mentor, and was instrumental in my own Alaskan adventures a decade ago. He made sure that I was on his publisher’s list for advance media copies.

Review: The Adventurer’s Son

Roman Dial is a master storyteller, and I’ve long awaited for a definitive book about these larger-than-life characters and only-in-Alaska events. But Roman’s best lifetime work will probably stand as The Adventurer’s Son, a story that he never would have wanted to write but that is more heartfelt, personal, and relevant than a book full of true but unbelievable tales.

A book excerpt has been published by Outside.

With Roman at our Wolverine Creek campsite, Brooks Range, Alaska

In both its structure and content, the story is divided into three parts. The family origin is told in the first third; Cody Roman’s adventurous travels through Central America, which preceded his disappearance, sit in the middle; and the search and aftermath fill the final half.

Most family origin stories (including mine) would be tedious, but the Dials are not the Jones or the Griswolds. Roman arrived in Alaska as a smart, self-motivated, and unsupervised 8-year-old. Peggy grew up in an Alaskan native village, and was the youngest of ten children. They married and had children young, and then adventured as a family — trekking across an Aleutian Island, skiing across the Harding Icefield, doing academic research in Borneo, completing multiple Alaskan Wilderness Classics, and packrafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

In addition to being interesting, the first part of the book gives context for the rest of it. I was familiar with a lot of the stories already — having heard them over campfires, slow river sections, and long car rides — but enjoyed the full editions. In the book I’d imagined for Roman, it would have been 350 pages of this stuff.

Roman preparing to packraft the Chitistone River in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

In late-2013 Cody Roman decided to take an extended break from graduate school, and started a long trip through Latin America. He remained in regular contact with Roman, who had mixed feelings about his son’s travels: on one hand, pride that he was making it happen on his own; on the other, the concern that you’d expect of any parent, layered atop the additional fact that he’d taught Cody Roman to live adventurously and had led by example.

Cody Roman’s Latin America trip was not record setting in any way (or intended to be). But it’s engaging content if you’re foreign to that part of the world, that landscape, and that kind of travel (as I am).

The search for Cody Roman occupies the latter half of the book. Searches have inherent suspense, and its page-turning nature reminded me of The Last Season, about the disappearance of a Kings Canyon National Park backcountry ranger in 1996.

This section of the book has plenty of plot, but it’s more notable for its heart. This was a parent’s worst nightmare, yet Roman manages to comprehensively, accurately, and beautifully convey his emotional state and to reflect on the larger questions about his parenting, responsibility, and guilt.

Have you read The Adventurer’s Son? Leave a comment.


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Posted in on February 25, 2020
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5 Comments

  1. Matt Long on February 26, 2020 at 6:12 am

    Andrew,

    Thanks for the review and recommendation. This one is getting added to my “To Be Read” shortlist.

    Matt

  2. Diane E on February 28, 2020 at 10:08 am

    I knew this was a “must read” when I first heard about it. Difficult wait for two months until released. Couldn’t put it down. Well written, compelling. Thanks for sharing the story

  3. Hunter Hall on March 7, 2020 at 7:38 pm

    Just finished it. Sad, but gripping tale.

    What an adventurous life though! Great father/son connection.

  4. Jesse on March 13, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    I haven’t read the book yet but I listened to an interview with Roman on NPR where he game a synopsis of the book and it was fascinating. As a parent, I found it to be a true nightmare scenario but compelling nonetheless.

    https://www.npr.org/2020/03/03/811397071/a-father-recounts-his-search-for-the-son-who-vanished-in-costa-rican-wilderness

  5. Matt Long on April 15, 2020 at 3:07 pm

    Andrew, not sure if you are on the Goodreads website but they recently asked Roman to provide his recommendations for adventure reading during this “stay-at-home” time period. His recommendations can be found at the link below.

    https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/146808.Roman_Dial_s_Adventure_Books_for_Those_Stuck_at_Home_

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