``Forget the epic, the masterwork,'' Nathanael West said. ``In America. . . families have no history. Leave slow growth to the book reviewers, you only have time to explode.'' In retrospect, it seems to have made sense for West to have been in such a hurry. In quick succession he hurled four incendiary novels at the literary establishment, beginning in 1931 with The Dream Life of Balso Snell and continuing with Miss Lonelyhearts, A Cool Million, and his masterpiece, The Day of the Locust. He died soon after finishing the book, in a traffic accident, at the age of 37. West seemed a unique figure in the 1930s, writing novels that mixed ferocious satire of the American establishment and the hustling, hypocritical spirit of capitalism with bawdy humor and a grim, unblinking view of the manner in which irrationality overwhelms logic and the best intentions. This Library of America volume, reprinting the novels along with screenplays, short stories, essays, and some wonderfully pungent letters, demonstrates that not much has changed: West is still a satirist with few peers and no betters, and a writer of bleak, haunting power.