The title of the series of short stories, which came to Shermie Alexie in a dream, is dreamlike itself at times. Representing the Native-American experience, Alexie incorporates various facets of the two characters, Victor Joseph and Thomas-Builds-the Fire. There is the element of surrealism in this story collection as flashbacks, dream sequences, diary entries, and long poetic passages are employed in the narratives. But, such is the Native-American experience that did, indeed, involve dreams and symbolism and metaphoric language.
One of the pivotal stories is "This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona." (This story was used for the movie Smoke Signals.) In this story, Victor decides to retrieve the belongings and ashes of his father. Thomas-Builds-a-Fire offers to accompany him, providing Victor with the money to make the trip. Along the way, Victor learns much about himself and his own identity.
The work chronicles the difficulties of modern existence for native Americans in the Spokane Indian Reservation. Sherman Alexie uses short stories to grapple with the proud past and the current challenges of native Americans.