This 1915 absurdist novella by Czech author Frank Kafka is the book that Rory buys Dean for Christmas.
The story is about a travelling salesman named Gregor Samsa who wakes one morning to find that he has been transformed into a large and verminous beetle-like insect, becoming a disgrace to his family and an outsider in his own home. Both harrowing and comical, the book is a meditation on human guilt and isolation. Translated into English in 1933, The Metamorphosis is one of the most influential literary works of the twentieth century.
Rory believes that the book is a “romantic” present. Lane quite rightly tries to talk her out of this, describing the book as a “confusing Czechoslovakian novel”. She urges Rory to consider what Dean will think of the present, and says that she is giving Dean something that she would like, comparing it to Dean giving Rory a football for Christmas.
Lane’s counsel is sound, and she is hinting that once again Rory is using literature to keep others at an emotional distance, since she identifies the potential Christmas gift as saying “let’s be friends”. It’s a genuinely terrible present for Dean, and shows that Rory is still trying to turn her boyfriend into someone he isn’t.
We never discover if Rory took Lane’s advice or gave the book to Dean anyway. At the end of the scene she sounded unconvinced but also unsure, so you could argue it either way.
Rory’s idea of a book by a famous Czech author was probably inspired by her grandfather’s recent trip to Prague. In the last episode Emily told her that Richard was going to bring her back something special, and my bet is that he brought her something from the gift shop at the Kafka Museum, probably a book (possibly even this book). Rory may have thought that since she loved getting a book by Kafka as a present, Dean would as well.
Rory’s attraction to The Metamorphosis is obvious: like Gregor Samsa, she feels that she has become an object of disgust to her family, and is likewise suffering from feelings of intense shame and isolation – she is not speaking to her mother, and has not even spoken to Dean since they overslept at Miss Patty’s.
The Metamorphosis begins with Gregor Samsa oversleeping, and then finding he is trapped in a waking nightmare without reason or explanation. We can be sure that this is exactly how Rory feels, and the ending where Samsa voluntarily dies rather than burden his family any further shows just how deep her feelings of depression are. Quite possibly Rory has wished herself dead.
Rory might be playing her situation for laughs by making jokes about The Miracle Worker and Narcolepsy Boy, but make no mistake, she is suffering horribly. Like The Metamorphosis, there is both comedy and misery in equal measure.
By giving Dean the book, Rory was hoping to show him exactly how she feels; the “romantic” part of the present is her sharing her deepest emotions and fears with Dean, reaching out and laying herself completely bare to him. Unfortunately, Lane is right, and Dean would have no way to interpret it as anything other than a strange, confusing book about a big bug.