Author Karen Russell believes that any novel can be viewed as a coming of age story.

Author Karen Russell believes that any novel can be viewed as a coming of age story.

"Characters are always having to adapt to some new event or some new information that's presented to them," she explained.

That period of transition - which she describes as "where somebody is on a threshold, kind of between worlds" - fascinates Russell, whose stories are often narrated by a teenager or child. During a Thurber House-sponsored event Thursday at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, the author will read from her debut novel, "Swamplandia," a fantastical story about a family that owns an alligator theme park, told from the point of view of several teenage siblings.

In the subtly humorous novel set in the Everglades, members of the Bigtree family grapple with the death of their mother, the star of the Swamplandia theme park's alligator-wrestling show, and the resulting decline of the park. Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree's older brother Kiwi runs off to work at a Bible-inspired rival theme park, and Ava goes searching for her big sister, Osceola, who disappeared into the swampy terrain with her ghost boyfriend.

As much as authors of magic realism such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges inspired her writing, Russell said the geography of her native south Florida was her biggest influence while working on "Swamplandia."

"I always think that the environment I grew up in was a magical realist environment," she said with a laugh. "It's uncanny that there's a swamp that's both land and water and these theme parks that coexist with the gas stations in this sort of seamless register."

The swamp is not just a tableau of contrast for Russell; it's also a source of awe.

"It feels primitive and vast and, I think, scary in a way that provokes reverence," she said. "The size of it resizes you in a good way."

"Swamplandia" has caught the eye of HBO, which is currently developing the book into a 30-minute comedy series. Russell has signed on as a consultant, and she said she hopes the show has an off-kilter sense of humor similar to that of the film "Adaptation" - which was also set in Florida.

"There's a braid of comedy and darkness; that's sort of what we're hoping to achieve," she explained.