Fall is upon us, and with it crisp air, the scent of pumpkin, and the lingering anxiety of all the summer reads you haven’t yet finished. You might wish you could turn back time. Well, have I got an idea for you! Mark the seasonal change with Andrew Sean Greer’s elegant, affecting time-travel book, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells.
When fiction travels through time, it often makes a left turn into sci-fi, introducing you to places unknown and people unmet, with results that can be lively and page-turning. But Greta Wells takes us on a time-bending journey through three different lives, lived by the same woman. After the death of her brother and the loss of her lover in 1985, the eponymous Greta undergoes a version of electric shock therapy to treat her depression. What ensues is a journey between lives on three different timelines—1918, 1941, and 1985—and a tale interested only in the opportunities time travel presents, not its mechanics. Here are a few more titles that take a decidedly un–sci-fi look at time-hopping:
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
This tear jerking romp recounts the effects of a husband’s genetic time-traveling condition on his marriage and family. Henry travels at random and against his will, and the strain it puts on his life and marriage roots the unreal firmly in reality and makes his plight all the more devastating.
11/22/63, by Stephen King
Unsurprisingly for a King book, 11/22/63 is set in Maine. The state, while rather lovely, is not an exotic, surreal landscape ripe for a mad science tale. Forgoing the scientific debate, King simply portrays a mild-mannered English teacher’s quest, via a storeroom portal to the past, to check off an item on his history-changing bucket list: sparing President John F. Kennedy from that fateful ride in Dallas. Cross-list this one as Lindy Hop fanfiction.
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
Ah, you like your romance and historical fiction mixed? Try Outlander—it’s even got controversial sex scenes to boot. When WWII-era British army nurse Claire Randall finds herself blacked out at a stone circle near Inverness, Scotland, she’s got some surprises and mysteries in store. One, she has traveled 200 years back in time. Two, she’s meeting the in-laws—namely, her husband’s surly ancestor Black Jack Randall. Three, if you’re married, but your husband is centuries away, are you really married after all? (Cue the sex scenes.)
Replay, by Ken Grimwood
Good morning, it’s Groundhog Life! The subject of Replay is one Jeff Winston, who dies at 43 and, instead of knocking on the pearly gates, has an old-school wake-up. No, literally, he wakes up in his old school as his 18-year-old self with the full knowledge of what is before him. It’s the long-game fantasy of all those cheaters who flipped back pages when they met their end in those Choose Your Own Adventure books.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain
If Samuel Clemens is involved, you can bet the farm that this classic is time travel meets satire. The conceit is that dogged trope of being conked on the head and transported to 6th-century England. The result is, of course, darkly humorous, but it’s also a fascinating look into some of the prickly realities of Twain’s own time.
The House on the Strand, by Daphne du Maurier
Don’t meddle with time, you pesky kids! No, really, don’t, because Ms. Du Maurier will send you plummeting back to your own time if you touch anything in another. The House on the Strand sets before us a drug that sends the narrator back to the 14th-century, where he becomes enraptured with two star-crossed lovers. As a parting gift, the book uniquely explores the dangers to the present of living in the past. This is heavy, Doc.
What’s your favorite time-travel book?