The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a collection of short stories and poems with many of the same characters. There is Victor Jospeh, who is usually narrating the story to us; Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who is a storyteller at heart who struggles to find a willing audience; Junior; and Crazy Horse. The story tells of a community on the Spokane Indian Reservation that is wrestling with small town drama, survival, and the effects of historical trauma.
The story that is most famous in the collection also happens to highlight the ways Alexie uses storytelling as a method of exploring genocide and survival. In the story, Victor is trying to travel to Phoenix, AZ to collect his father’s ashes. He does not have the funds to cover his cost, and Thomas Builds-the-Fire offers to pay for the cost of both of them to go. They take a Greyhound bus from the Spokane Indian Reservation all the way to the desert. Victor finds Thomas Builds-the-Fire to be annoying and tiresome. He is always standing around town telling outlandish stories to bored audiences. However, over the course of their travels the two become friends with a deeper understanding of one another. We come to find out that Thomas has close memories of Victor’s father and cared personally about their trip to retrieve his ashes. Victor begins to see Thomas as an integral part of the community. Thomas is a storyteller at heart. Though his stories seem frivolous and don’t always make sense we learn that there is purpose behind them. Storytelling is, in fact, a gift that Thomas possesses. Furthermore, it is through stories that Thomas and Victor come to understand and connect with one another. They both come from the same community and have similar struggles with family, alcoholism, and feelings of isolation. They come together and build community through the opportunity to reminisce and share tales. This story inspired the film Smoke Signals.