Now, tell me if you've heard this one...
Present day: Old person looks back on younger self.
Past: Jack is having a tough time. He doesn't belong on the ship—er, train, whatever—but he ends up there. He's from a lower class. He meets Rose, she's from a higher class and she's involved with a crazy man, an elitist. From the beginning we know four things: 1) Jack and Rose's paths will cross, 2) they'll fall in love, 3) Mr. Rose will not be happy, and 4) the ship is going to sink. Blah blah blah dancing, blah blah blah necklace, blah blah blah “steamy” sex.
It worked the first time, it makes sense it would work a second.
Water for Elephants is not Titanic for several reasons, but it certainly seems likely it was drawn from the same source. Moving the story to a circus train leaves room for endearing characters and puts on display a nearly forgotten ritual. It's a good story, but it's not much more than a good story. What I mean is that Water for Elephants is extremely plot-centric. There's action, like when Jack and Rose are running around on the ship—err, train. It's a good story. Everything else is basic at best. The language is no more than is necessary to carry the story. The characters' sole purpose is to move the story along.
I've been meaning to read this novel since it first came out. The reason I didn't read it sooner: It became too popular and I knew it couldn't live up to the hype. It couldn't, but it was good. It doesn't have a whole lot to offer, but it is a fun ride. Right up until the moment that Rose promises she'll never let Jack go. Never. Until she does.