Billy Smith, the protagonist and narrator of Stephen May’s new novel, “Life! Death! Prizes!,’’ is a familiar type in today’s literary landscape. He’s young. He’s smart. And above all, he’s alienated. He spends most of his time in a funk, casting a gimlet eye on the damaged world around him.
The pleasures of this sort of character — I hesitate to use the term “hero” — reside in one of two possibilities. First, that he offer us genuine insights. Second, that at some point the novelist strips away his defensive ennui and makes us feel the pain hammering away beneath.